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Large caps this spring's must-have for water fleas
Date:5/3/2010

It remains one of the unresolved mysteries of the animal world: why do females change the way they look each season while males look the same all year round? Researchers at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, who have been studying fashion trends for water fleas have found some of the answers.

What can millimetre-long water fleas from twenty small lakes in the Munkedal district of south-west Sweden have to say about animals' winter and summer fashions? A lot, as it happens. The water flea is, in fact, one of the world's trendiest crustaceans.

New accessories

Water fleas have the ability to change their appearance to suit their surroundings and the season. This may involve, for example, donning new accessories: water fleas can grow long antennae, a larger back hump or a new "cap" of varying sizes. Researchers at the Department of Zoology at the University of Gothenburg who studied water fleas in the rekilslven river basin believe these accessories to be the water fleas' way of reducing the risk of being caught and eaten.

Different trends

What's remarkable is that water fleas in different lakes follow different trends. For example, high up in the rekilslven water system, the females have been wearing small round caps teamed with fairly large bodies, while their counterparts further down in the system have gone the other way - larger caps but smaller bodies.

Fashion for protection

Hans Lord, researcher at the Department of Zoology, offers an explanation in his thesis. A large cap protects the water fleas from small invertebrate predators, as it makes it harder for these predators to catch and hang on to them. Smaller bodies, in turn, are the water fleas' way of adapting to predatory fish, which rely on their sight to locate their prey. The combination of a small body and a large cap is a compromise: the smaller body reduces the risk of being spotted by a fish, while the large cap (wh
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Contact: Hans Lord
hans.lord@zool.gu.se
46-031-174-940
University of Gothenburg
Source:Eurekalert  

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