Submit or Perish

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Science  08 Dec 2006:
Vol. 314, Issue 5805, pp. 1516
DOI: 10.1126/science.314.5805.1516b

Social animals often pursue a hierarchical lifestyle, whose expression can be observed by third parties in the form of ritualized dominance displays. Primates, for example, use the relatively complex behavior of pseudocopulation between males as a means of affirming and signaling social relationships.

Issa and Edwards show that crayfish not only adopt dominance postures but also exhibit pseudocopulation. Dominance relationships are generally established quickly in pairs of male crayfish, with the dominant individual displaying typical male courtship behavior, including flipping the subordinate onto his back. In more than half of the pairs, the subordinate then adopted a passive supine posture reminiscent of female mating behavior. Pseudocopulating pairs spent less time fighting, with no mortality occurring in the first day. In pairs that did not pseudocopulate, the dominant males were persistently aggressive, and half of the subordinates were killed, dismembered, and eaten. Thus, it seems that ritualized submission serves to increase the chance of survival for the subordinate crayfish, as it does in mammals—an intriguing example of the convergent evolution of social behavior. — GR

Curr. Biol. 16, 2217 (2006).

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