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For a male sand goby, playing 'Mr. Mom' is key to female's heart

GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- What's a little male fish's secret weapon for attracting the lady fish? Something some guys but few other males in the animal kingdom have thought of: It acts like a good dad.

Sand gobies, small fish native to the European coast, are among about 20 percent of fish families worldwide that display some form of care for eggs or hatchlings. But in experiments reported in the current issue of the journal Behavioral Ecology, a team that includes a University of Florida scientist reports that male sand gobies work harder at building nests and taking care of eggs when females are present the first time such "courtship parental care" has been documented in any species.

Some males' behavior was even more dastardly. While the experiments showed all male gobies nibbled on the eggs in their charge, unaccompanied males not only shirked their parental duties they also were more likely to gobble down entire clutches of eggs.

"We were interested in whether males would change their behavior in response to the perception that their future mating opportunities were different," said Colette St. Mary, an associate professor of zoology at UF and one of three authors of the paper. "We found this was the case."

Sigal Balshine, an assistant professor of psychology and specialist in animal behavior at McMaster University in Ontario, called the results "very neat and very novel."

Asked about analogies to human behavior, she said, "Being a good father is very sexy. This is almost a clich, as it has become a standard joke that the best way to get women to be interested in you as a single guy is to borrow a baby or a puppy. Women obviously find 'caring guys' very sexy."

As part of a research effort aimed at investigating the role of sexual selection in how parental care has evolved in male fish, St. Mary, Kai Lindstrm and Christophe Pampoulie, both of the University of Helsinki in Finland, decided to use sand gobies
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Contact: Colette M. St. Mary
stmary@zoo.ufl.edu
011-358-0-9-191-57800
University of Florida
4-May-2004


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