The Benefits Of Striking The First Blow

                          Australian Desert Goby
                                           Wikipedia Creative Commons

The benefits of striking the first blow are large if you’re small. There are many reasons that males fight and this may be over food resources, or the love of their lives –­ territory usually includes both of these drivers, but the bigger, stronger individual most often are the ones to bet on. Interestingly, though, small individuals often get aggressive very quickly.

Svensson et al have been trying to make sense of this in this week’s PLoS ONE with a study using Australian Desert Gobies (1). These are pretty little fish where the males take care of the egg watching duties while the females go off and mind their own business.

The research team set up a goby with a nest to defend in their lab and then hypothesized that there would be fights if the resident and other fish thought that there were females to fight over, so they tempted the males with females for a couple of days and then let intruders in near the nest.

Of course, a fish has to do what a fish has to do and fights occurred. The degree of aggression was not dependent on there being sexy females in the offing. Consistently, when small males were given the nest to defend they went in hard and very fast and were generally successful in scaring off the intruder before he’d got himself organized.

Bigger defenders were not in such a hurry to attack first and showed no signs of a Napoleon Complex. Also there was no correlation with the size of the intruders. The small guys just didn’t hang around to discuss things in a fishy way, they knew the benefits of striking the first blow and went for it. In a long drawn out brawl, they would have almost inevitably lost. But their in fast and hard strategy worked.

Seems to be a strategy that is well known across species, so no surprises down under in the fishy lagoons.


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