March 29, 2010

Urine Signals Sex, Violence to Crayfish

Two crayfish fight in a cloud of visualized urine.

Female crayfish send mixed messages during courtship ? using urine.

The urine that female American signal crayfishes (Pacifastacus leniusculus) spray out triggers courtship behavior in males. The males attempt to mate only after they catch a whiff, experiments revealed, with it driving them into a sexual frenzy.

However, as they unleash this seductive aphrodisiac, the females are typically fighting males, researchers found.

The males actually use urine as a signal for violence, releasing it when they fight other males. The females essentially issue it as an invitation and challenge.

So why send conflicting signals? By stimulating aggression in males, females can best gauge male size and strength, thereby ensuring only the fittest partners will father their offspring, scientists reason.

So why use urine?

"Most probably because urine provides uncheatable information," said researcher Thomas Breithaupt, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Hull in England.

Animals often bluff about their prowess ? male Australian slender crayfish (Cherax dispar) often bluff opponents with large claws that aren't actually stronger than normal, for instance. However, urine contains byproducts of physical processes that can serve as vital clues about their fighting power.

Back to Crayfish News!