Male crickets prioritize the life of their female partners ahead of their own, even though it means a dramatic rise for the former in the risk of being eaten, research published Thursday said.
In perhaps the insect equivalent of holding the door open, infrared video pictures of a wild population of field crickets (Gryllus campestris) in Spain showed males giving females priority access to the safety of a burrow.
Rolando Rodriguez-Munoz of the University of Exeter in England said the study showed that chivalrous behavior is not exclusively linked to humans, education or intelligence.
"We showed that even males of small insects, which we would not define as intelligent or affective, can be 'chivalrous' or protective with their partners," he added.
The research was published in the cell press journal Current Biology.
Most previous studies of cricket mating behavior had been conducted in the laboratory.
The results are contrary to the usual interpretation of male guarding behavior as an attempt to manipulate females and prevent them from mating with rivals, the researchers said.
However, male crickets in the study were rewarded for their risky behavior, as their extended stays with females won them more offspring.
"Lone female and male crickets suffer similar rates of predation, but when a pair is attacked, the female's chances of survival increase as the male's chances drop," the researchers said.
"In compensation for their increased predation risk, paired males mate more frequently and father more of their partner's offspring.
"We are looking forward to seeing whether chivalry prevails in future generations," Rodriguez-Munoz said, noting that the current study is based on three consecutive mating seasons.
"There may be some years when both sexes behave in a more obviously selfish fashion and attempt to escape down the burrow first."
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