Biology Behind: Natures Winners

Seasons Greetings everybody!!!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Why? Because it's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. Okay I will stop now haha however I could go on for a very very long time with this.

Planet Earth has now officially finished, which I am devastated about but all things must come to an end. David Attenborough as well as his truly dedicated research team managed to transport us straight to some of the most dramatic events Nature offers against breathtaking backgrounds, so a huge THANKS to the team that brought us close to Planet Earth again. Hopefully we will see it again in another four years!

On today’s post I have taken inspiration on an element from the Planet Earth series. Animal fights. This calls to mind the colossal fight between the two giant dragons from the Islands episode and so many more - but we are looking into something in particular… what makes a champion in the animal world? How do individuals win fights? As in all things within nature it is not a clear cut answer, however there are several factors that greatly influence the winner once a fight starts.

Size matters:

The scene was set. We were taken to an island were the biggest predator was the largest lizard on the planet. The great Komodo Dragon. What triggered the fight? Mating rights. Two rivaling males battling it out for access to female in heat. Before entering a fight and risking injury or death the two males assess each other's fighting potential using body size as an indicator. However, when both are equally matched a contest is inevitable.

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In Asian elephants physical size was found to be a significant factor on the success of the fighting outcome. Those that were physically bigger are more likely to win contests.

Mass production of the winning hormone:

Testosterone levels in males may give an individual an increased incentive to win a fight. Male elephants enter a period of the year known as Musth. It is a dangerous time to be on a safari, Elephants express higher levels of testosterone giving them more motivation to fight giving them an advantage to win compared to elephants that have yet to enter the period.

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This colourful fish is known as a cichlid. It was found that the size of their testes was directly proportionate to the levels of background testosterone. Hence, they influenced the chances of winning with males with larger testes more likely to win a fight. Curious to test the effects of background levels of testosterone some Scientists decided to inject certain male Red Grouse with testosterone. Within the study’s timeline those injected with testosterone doubled their territory size and with it secured a larger number of females.

Size of your weaponry:

One of the most well known examples of weaponry in the use of conflict has to be Deer. Antlers take a lot of energy to grow, so this allows the size of deer antlers to be used as a signal of how good males are at acquiring food. However, that is another post entirely! Large antlers make for an effective advantage over other opponents when pre assessments escalate to a fighting level.

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During the season known as ‘rut’ females become reproductively available, making this entire season fight season. The stakes are high, males that win over others in an encounter ensues that their genes are passed onto the next generation.

Also observed in species of crabs whereby the size of their claws largely determine who wins the fight and more importantly who they get into fights with.  This trend even transcends into the insect world. Dung beetles with larger horns often win when engaged in a pushing contest.

Taking it on face value:

An interesting way of predicting whether an individual is going to win a battle is by looking at birds. Members of bird species carry a ‘badge of status’ whereby it indicates their fighting ability. Let me introduce you to the Harris sparrow (pictured below). Looking at these two sparrows if they were to engage in a fight it is likely that the one on the left is going to win, Why? Harris Sparrows that have darker faces have been found to have higher levels of testosterone giving it an advantage in a fight. Interestingly, birds with darker faces were perceived by others as a more dominant male and would reduce the number of fights they were challenged in! Two bird one stone kind of deal…

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Alternatively, in the case of Scarlet Tufted Malachite Sunbirds (pictured below) they fight to defend their territories containing the wonderful Lobelia flower, a source of nectar for them. Once engaged, males will display their scarlet pectoral tufts. Those with larger tufts tufts defend more of the flowers (an admirable trait for perspective females).

Playing on the home advantage:

All to lose and nothing to gain. This is true for any resident, they have access to food, water and females, therefore their motivational drive is high even if the resident is smaller than his competitor. Of course, this ability to stand up for what is theirs only works when difference in sizes are small, if not then they leave! This has been observed in Red Wasps,  Lizards and even Spiders.

In a pretty interesting experiment, Scientists removed Great Tits from their territories allowing intruders to take over the vacancy. They varied the amount of time between the removal of the Great Tits and returning them back. Resident Great Tits that were kept away from their territory lost the battle as the Intruder had more motivation to fight for what they took over.

That is it guys! As you have realised there are a lot of factors playing into whether an individual will win a fight or not, in some cases it could be a combination of several. You have to wonder what happened to those original resident Great Tits? Where they just left at the end of the study which is quite unfair considering they were the original resource holder.

NEWS: This will be the last blog post on her for the rest of this year AND the last blog post under the name BioBunch. For Christmas this blog is being upgraded!! New Year, New Blog and most importantly New Blog Name. Very exciting times, keep visiting the site to keep up to date with any news. Love you guys thanks for sticking with the blog.

Make sure ‘you have yourself a merry little Christmas now’

Over and out

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