Percussion

Palm cockatoo drums with self-fashioned drumstick

Palm cockatoo makes a drumstick

With a female listening, palm cockatoo males may repeatedly strike a hollow branch or trunk with a stick. Robert Heinsohn and colleagues heard that the birds have good rhythm and that every male has his individual drumming style.

A palm cockatoo male from North Australia can produce different sounds while erecting its crest. That is impressive, but there is something that really stands out: it may start drumming.

Regular pulse

When a male is going to perform, it breaks off a twig, removes the leaves, trims it to approximately 20 centimetres, grasps it in one of both foots and starts beating repeatedly on a hollow branch or trunk. Instead of a stick, it may use a seed pod of a particular tree (Grevillea glauca, the bushman’s clothes peg) after adjusting the shape with its beak. It may continue drumming for a while, producing a sequence of up to 90 taps.

It is remarkable that the intervals between the taps don’t occur at random intervals; instead, the cockatoos produce a regular pulse, as Robert Heinsohn and colleagues assessed. They also noticed that each male has its individual, consistent style; some males have slow drumming rates, whereas others drum at a faster rate, or insert short sequences of faster drumming in the performance occasionally.

Solo

It is not known yet which function the performance might have. Palm cockatoos form monogamous pairs which occupy a large territory. The sound does not travel far enough to be heard by the neighbours, so a male cannot communicate with them by drumming; he always is playing solo. As most performances are attended by the female, the music probably is meant for her, and it may be a male’s way to inform its partner about its condition or age; the birds may live more than 50 years. We don’t know whether the females like the percussion and what rhythm they prefer.

Willy van Strien

Photo: Christoph Lorse (Via Flickr. Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The researchers explain their work on You Tube;
short fragment of a drumming cockatoo

Source:
Heinsohn, R., C.N. Zdenek, R.B. Cunningham, J.A. Endler & N.E. Langmore, 2017. Tool-assisted rhythmic drumming in palm cockatoos shares key elements of human instrumental music. Science Advances 3: e1602399. Doi: 10.1126/sciadv.1602399

Fake present

Male spider cheats female with densely wrapped rubbish

Pisaura mirabilis male cheats female with well-wrapped fake present

A male nursery web spider may offer its partner a worthless package instead of a decent nuptial gift. He wraps such a fake present in many layers of silk, Paolo Ghislandi and colleagues show, so that it takes longer before the female detects the deceit and sends him away.

When you give someone a cheap gift, you’d better wrap it well. At least, that is the rule in the nursery web spider (Pisaura mirabilis), a hunting spider that occurs throughout Europe, as Paolo Ghislandi and colleagues report. A male usually carries a nuptial gift when he is looking for a female to mate with. It should contain one or more prey items that he has caught to offer her and wrapped in white silk. A female, happy to get a nice meal, will allow the male to mate her, while she often rejects a male without a present, as Maria Albo had shown.

Worthless

But instead of a meal, a female often finds the hard leftovers of an arthropod prey or some plant parts after removing the silk – an inedible gift that is worthless. Is a male giving such a gift in bad condition and unable to capture a prey and offer it? Or couldn’t he find anything better?

No, instead of inability it is pure deception, as Ghislandi concludes from field observations and behavioural experiments in the laboratory. Even a male that is well-fed and heavy – and therefore capable to catch and offer a prey – often cheats its partner with wrapped rubbish.

And he is successful, for as a female is unable to determine whether a white package contains something edible or not, she will accept a male with a fake present as readily as a male that carries an edible gift.

Punished

But ultimately, a cheating suitor will still be punished: the mating lasts briefly. A male can transfer its sperm while the female consumes her gift; it she is finished, he has to go. Consequently, when the gift is inedible, the mating will end soon, so a cheating male will transfer less sperm than a honest male. That is a disadvantage, because a female mates with several males and their sperm must compete for the eggs to be fertilized. The more sperm cells a male transfers, the more offspring he will sire.

More silk

Ghislandi also discovered that fake presents are wrapped in more layers of silk than real gifts, so cheating males invest a lot in wrapping. Probably, this is a trick to prolong mating, because the more silk is wrapped around the gift, the longer it takes a female to detect the deceit and stop the copulation.

Still, a really long mating will not ensue. And maybe that’s not so bad after all: a male cheating a female with a fake present may fertilize less eggs, but he saves time and energy to find other females, thereby increasing is lifetime reproductive success as well.

Willy van Strien

Photo: ©Paolo Ghislandi

Sources:
Ghislandi, P.G., M. Beyer, P. Velado & C. Tuni, 2017. Silk wrapping of nuptial gifts aids cheating behaviour in male spiders. Behavioral Ecology, online February 23. Doi:10.1093/beheco/arx028
Ghislandi, P.G., Albo, M.J., Tuni, C. & T. Bilde, 2014. Evolution of deceit by worthless donations in a nuptial gift-giving spider. Current Zoology 60: 43-51. Doi: 10.1093/czoolo/60.1.43
Albo, M.J., G. Winther, C. Tuni, S. Toft & T. Bilde, 2011. Worthless donations: male deception and female counter play in a nuptial gift-giving spider. BMC Evolutionary Biology 11: 329. Doi: 10.1186/1471-2148-11-329

Selfknowledge in red-backed fairy-wrens

Only old and bright males seek extra-pair mates

in red-backed fairy-wrens old and bright males seek extra-pair matings

Red-backed fairy-wren males know how to behave to maximize their fitness, Denélle Dowling and Michael Dowling show. A male that has a bright breeding plumage invests in courting extra-pair females, whereas a man with a dull appearance invests in mate guarding.

Like most songbirds, red-backed fairy-wrens, which live in Australia, form socially monogamous pairs, and a couple may stay together for years. This doesn’t mean that the birds are faithful, however: roughly half of the young is not sired by the social father. Adultery is the rule.

In the breeding season, a male may adopt one of two alternative strategies. He can either invest in seeking extra-pair copulations to gain extra-pair offspring in addition to within-pair offspring, or he can stay on his own territory to defend it the against other couples together with his mate, to help provision the young – and to keep other males away from his mate to minimize the risk of being cuckolded.

Preference

What strategy is the best strategy? Jenélle Dowling and Michael Webster argued that the answer differs among males. It just depends on how attractive a male is to other females.

And the males differ greatly in attractiveness. Some have a bright, black and red plumage, while others have a dull, brownish plumage, much like a female. Almost all males aged more than two years are brightly coloured, among young males about half is bright. It was already known that females prefer bright males. Also, they prefer old males, as their age indicates that they are of good quality.

So, old black-red males are the most attractive ones. The best strategy for them will be to foray to neighbouring territories and court other females, Dowling and Webster assumed, as they stand a real chance to succeed. For dull males, on the contrary, it will be better to stay with their partner, as other females will be reluctant to copulate with them. Moreover, a dull male runs a high risk of being cuckolded by his social partner whenever an attractive male approaches her when she is alone. Young black-red males can try to gain extra-pair copulations, but they will be less likely to succeed than old males.

The researchers set up an investigation to find out whether red-backed fairy-wren males act in their best interests. And it turns out that they do. Old black-red males frequently leave to search for extra-pair females, while brown males mostly remain on their territory. Young black-red males adopt an intermediate strategy.

Cuckolded

DNA analyses of parents and young birds revealed that black-red males (young and old) sire more extra-pair young, as expected, but less within-pair young than dull males; apparently, bright males are cuckolded more often.

The latter result is not undisputed. In other studies, including that of Jordan Karubian, brown males were found to have less young than black-red males and to be cuckolded more frequently, even though they guarded their mate closely. But still, the best strategy for them is to stay on their territory. Otherwise, they will probably be cuckolded even more.

Willy van Strien

Photo: Red-backed fairy-wren, bright male. Jim Bendon (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0)

Sources:
Dowling, J. & M.S. Webster, 2017. Working with what you’ve got: unattractive males show greater mateguarding effort in a duetting songbird. Biology Letters 13: 20160682. Doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2016.0682
Karubian, J., 2002. Costs and benefits of variable breeding plumage in the red-backed fairy-wren. Evolution, 56: 1673-1682. Doi: 10.1111/j.0014-3820.2002.tb01479.x