Washington, August 1 : New research has revealed that male fish try to conceal their choice of mate by feigning disinterest in females when competitors are around, new research suggests.
Martin Plath, an expert associated with the University of Potsdam in Germany and the University of Oklahoma, has also found that male Atlantic mollies often deceive their rivals by making their first sexual advances toward females that really aren't their first pick.
The reason for this behaviour probably lies in the fact that male mollies copy other males' mate choices, said the researcher.
"I find it particularly interesting that fish are capable of such a sophisticated behavior. The study highlights that traits that we typically ascribe to humans only can also be found in other, seemingly simpler animals and that no consciousness or self-awareness is needed for a behavior like deception to occur," said Plath.
The new findings were made while the researchers were trying to confirm their previous findings: that male Atlantic mollies curb sexual activity when other males are around, acting as though they've lost interest in the opposite sex altogether.
During the study, the researchers placed two "stimulus" females into a tank, and later introduced a male.
The group observed the male fish's sexual advances - including nipping and mating attempts - for five minutes, repeating the experiment several times with different individuals.
The researchers later introduced an "audience male" in their experiments, who could watch but not interfere.
In the first experiments, males more often directed their initial advances toward the larger of the two females, they found.
In the presence of another male, however, the focal male's interest in the females suddenly slumped and, when it did make a move, it was initially directed toward the punier, apparently less-preferred female.
The researchers said that deceptive signals may be a powerful mating strategy used by males to lead competitors away from preferred females, thereby increasing the chance that the deceivers will father the offspring.
"Future studies will need to evaluate the potential for male mate choice copying and deception in natural populations, because male mate choice copying cannot be evolutionarily stable if males always have an opportunity to deceive rivals," they said.
Just in case any competitor didn't fall for the ruse, he would have easy access to the choicest mating partner.