Cricket Chivalry: Ladies Into Burrow First, Please

Oct 7, 2011 12:42pm

There is no honor among thieves, no time like the present, and no place like home. But there’s chivalry among crickets. Really.

British scientists, writing in the journal Current Biology, say they watched field crickets and found that the males will apparently put the lives of their mating partners ahead of their own. When mated pairs were out together, the male would usually stand aside (or whatever crickets do) so the female could return to the safety of their burrow first, even though it meant a substantial increase in his own risk of being eaten.

It’s not quite holding the door for a lady, but we are, after all, talking crickets. It matters in the understanding of evolution. Usually, males protect themselves because — how to put this politely? — guys get around more, can have more offspring, and thus contribute more to the survival of the species.

“Many people probably think that ‘chivalrous’ behavior is exclusive of humans or closely related mammals, linking it in some way to education, intelligence, or affection,” said Rolando Rodríguez-Muñoz of the University of Exeter, the lead author, in a statement. “We show that even males of small insects, which we would not define as intelligent or affective, can be ‘chivalrous’ or protective with their partners.

“Perhaps it shines a light on the fact that apparently chivalrous acts may have ulterior motives. Did Sir Walter Raleigh throw his cape onto a muddy pool in front of Queen Elizabeth just because he was a nice guy? I think not.”

There’s video of the crickets, shot in English fields by Rodríguez-Muñoz and his colleagues, Amanda Bretman and Tom Tregenza. Take a look. They were diligent in their work. You’ll notice they even went to the trouble of numbering the crickets they followed.

(Video credit: Current Biology and Rodríguez-Muñoz et al./University of Exeter)

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