Bite me! (And that’s a good thing!)

Guest Post by Emily Weigel, PhD Candidate-Michigan State University

Okay, some girls like it rough, but for the small threespine stickleback fish (Gasterosteus aculeatus), dancing and biting are essential parts of a male’s courting strategy.

Fish out of water!... and in my hand. Yup, these fish are that small!

Fish out of water!… and in my hand. Yup, these fish are that small!

Often, the mating behavior of threespine sticklebacks resembles something a bit more akin to a horror movie (at least for those of us watching it repeatedly): an egg-laden, plump female, not that unlike the archetypal buxom blond, comes into contact with a surprising stranger. At first she plays along, examining his moves and is intrigued; however, when she rebukes or hesitates in response to his advances, a sudden chase ensues. Encumbered by, let’s say, her ‘rounded physique’, her attempts to flee are slowed, allowing the male to be hot on her tail, nipping as he chases. If she doesn’t run upstairs in the house, or in the case of the stickleback, swim into a corner, her flight is effective. Most of the time, however, she is either panicked or not that smart.
Watching sticklebacks mate isn’t always done through scared, face-covering fingers, though. This ubiquitous fish system is highly controlled by female choice, and so ‘romance’ does exist. Love bites and gentle rubs are common, and males do court hard, but they let females have a great deal of power and exercise choice. In fact, males don’t just try to attract females, they are actually the primary caregivers for the offspring. These males build nests out of a glue they secrete and materials they gather from the environment, and it is they who fan and protect the young from fertilized egg to young fry. So, male sticklebacks are not all bad, but maybe some are just taking an overeager approach to return-on-investment. Cornering a gal or bobbing like in Night at the Roxbury attracts a minimal subset, males. Trust me.

Male guarding his nest in an experimental environment.

Male guarding his nest in an experimental environment.

If you’d like to learn more about these fish and their behavior, venture outside (if you live in the subarctic Northern Hemisphere) or visit here for cool videos:

Follow Emily on Twitter @Choosy_Female !

One Response to Bite me! (And that’s a good thing!)

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