COLUMBUS, Ohio Scientists have caught male topi antelopes in the act of faking fear in front of females in heat as a way to improve their chances of having sex.
The male antelopes, observed in southwest Kenya, send a false signal that a predator is nearby only when females in heat are in their territories. When the females react to the signal, they remain in the territory long enough for some males to fit in a quick mating opportunity.
The signal in this case, an alarm snort, is not a warning to other antelopes to beware, but instead tells a predator that it has been seen and lost its element of surprise, the researchers found.
So when the scientists observed the animals misusing the snort in the presence of sexually receptive females, they knew they were witnessing the practice of intentional deception a trait typically attributed only to humans and a select few other animal species.
"There is very little evidence that animals use deception, and to make that link that the deception is intentional is very difficult," said Wiline Pangle, co-author of the study and a visiting scholar in evolution, ecology and organismal biology at Ohio State University. "It's almost amusing to us. The female hears the snort and thinks, 'oops, there is a lion.' She steps back, and the male comes around and mates. It's striking."
Pangle conducted the research with Jakob Bro-Jrgensen of the University of Liverpool. The paper appears online and is scheduled for print publication in the July issue of the journal The American Naturalist.
Pangle and Bro-Jrgensen, a longtime expert in topi behavior, met while they were conducting separate field work in the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, where Pangle studies the survival strategies of the antelopes' carnivorous predators. Over dinner, they discussed Bro-Jrgensen's observation that he had witnessed this sexual deception, and they teamed to conduct a rare controlled st
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Ohio State University