60-Second Science

Chivalrous Crickets Benefit from Protecting Mates

Male crickets who guarded their mates against predators gained mating opportunities and offspring. Sophie Bushwick reports

Jiminy Cricket may not actually hold the door open for his lady friends, but he can still be chivalrous: researchers from the University of Exeter discovered that when threatened by predators, a male field cricket will protect his mate by letting her enter their burrow first. The work is published in the journal Current Biology. [Rolando Rodríguez-Muñoz, Amanda Bretman and Tom Tregenza, "Guarding Males Protect Females from Predation in a Wild Insect"]

Using microphones and infrared cameras, researchers monitored a Spanish cricket population for three seasons. They identified each cricket with a tiny numbered nametag and a DNA fingerprint taken from a sample of its leg. This Big Brother scrutiny revealed the details of cricket relationships, from their courtship time to how they conducted their affairs.

Previous studies of crickets’ behavior examined them in a lab setting, where males acted aggressively towards other males and mates alike. In the wild, however, males still brawled with rivals. But they formed long-term relationships by protecting, not dominating, their partners.

So why guard his gal? A gentlemanly cricket fosters a longer relationship, with more mating and more offspring. So chivalry may not be dead—but it’s not entirely altruistic either.

—Sophie Bushwick

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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