Monday, July 5, 2010

For animals, all's fair in love

There's a book called "Dogs Never Lie About Love." That's the sort of thing people like to believe, but in fact, deception is as common among other species as it is among our fellow humans. Much of this deception is geared toward the basic goals of food and, yes, love. Some animals, upon finding food, will use a predator alarm call so their buddies will run away and the liar doesn't have to share. Others will do the same to keep fellow males away from an attractive female.

Some deception methods are pretty sophisticated, like the orangutans who use leaves held up to the mouths when they call, so they sound like they're coming from a bigger animal.

In other cases, it's so basic that the animal's actual physiology has evolved to do the trick - like the male lizards who don't change to their adult coloration so they can sneak around mating with females right under the nose of a dominant male.

The latest scientfic discovery about animal liars shows that animals will also fake it to make sure their date sticks around when she shows signs of losing interest. Male topi antelopes were caught in the act, as reported by Science News:

Study leader Jakob Bro-Jørgensen noticed that when a female would start to wander away from a male’s territory, the male would look in the direction she was headed, prick his ears and snort loudly — the same snort the animals use when they’ve noticed a lion, leopard or other approaching predator.

“It was quite funny — it made me laugh,” says Bro-Jørgensen, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Liverpool in England. “It’s such an obvious lie — clearly there’s no lion.”

Obvious, maybe, but apparently it works. The researchers played recordings and discovered that females couldn't tell the difference between lying snorts and truthful ones. A snorting male would get two or three more chances at mating, and they didn't hesitate to milk it - their snorts were lies nine times more often than they were true.

Let's face it: of course animals lie about love. It's too important not to. They'd lie about themselves on Internet dating sites too, if they had opposable thumbs to type with. The difference is our superior technology, not animals' superior moral nature.

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