Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Lying crayfish, righteous wasps

Via Coturnix, I became aware of this ScienceDaily article.

Are All Male's Liars And Cheaters? Yes -- If They're Crayfish!

Intimidation and threats are common throughout society, whether it's in the school playground, sporting arena or boardroom. Threatening behaviour is equally widespread among non-human animals.

Individuals signal their superior strength to competitors to obtain food, resolve territorial disputes and acquire mates. Current theory insists that signals of strength should be honest. Surprisingly researchers have found that dishonest signals are used routinely during dominance disputes by male Australian crayfish. This work was presented by Dr Robbie Wilson (University of Queensland) on 2nd April at the Society for Experimental Biology's Annual Meeting in Glasgow.

This is rather facinating news, though I wasn't aware that signals of strength are thought to be honest. As a matter of fact, I can think of one older ScienceDaily story that would indicate that it's known not to be the case. I am here thinking of the story about how wasps punishes cheapters and liars: The Blotchier The Face, The Better The Wasp

When wasps sporting the high-quality symbol of a blotchy face turned out to be wimps, they got harassed more than wasps whose abilities were honestly reflected by their faces, report researchers.

It's the first conclusive report that animals that don't signal their qualities honestly receive social sanctions. Moreover, it's the first report of such quality signals in insects.

The very fact that there was research into this area back in 2004, seems to indicate that at least some researchers thought it likely that not all animals behaved entirely honest, or at least wanted to know what kept the animals honest.

Of course, the wasp research showed that if someone got called out on your dishonesty, then it had bad consequences for the individual, which might lead to dishonesty only being an option for species that doesn't have other means of figuring out the strength of an individual than the signals they display (and fighting obviously). This seems to be the case for crayfish.

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