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Smaller is better; female burying beetles prefer miniature mates

Burying beetles have a reputation for top-notch parenting.

By Brooks Hays
Smaller is better; female burying beetles prefer miniature mates
Burying beetles mate and raise their families inside animal carcasses. Photo by Panaiotidi/Shutterstock

EXETER, England, Jan. 8 (UPI) -- For many species, controlled violence is a turn-on. Males seek out confrontation, butt heads and wrestle to assert their dominance and demonstrate their toughness -- all with the aim of attracting a mate.

Female burying beetles prefer males that avoid confrontation. They look for mates most likely to provide a drama-free environment for child-rearing. That's why they prefer smaller males.

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In the insect world, burying beetles have a reputation for top-notch parenting, and their parenting behaviors are well-studied. Researchers at the University of Exeter wanted to find out how females select sexual partners.

To do so, they set up an enticing love nest in the middle of the forest -- a dead mouse. Burying beetles mate and raise their family in animal carcasses.

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Scientists then released various combinations of beetles in the vicinity of the mouse. All the released beetles were raised in the lab among varying ratios of males and females to replicate their natural upbringing and expose them to the competition they'd be facing out on the dating scene.

Surprisingly, researchers observed that smaller males were more successful than their larger peers at attracting females to their love den.

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"These results show that by being choosy about their males, female burying beetles might avoid complicated relationships involving male fights and extra female competitors," lead researcher Paul Hopwood, Exeter ecologist, explained in a press release.

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In many species, larger males take on more mates and are often less committed fathers. But while the smaller burying beetles did have a higher degree of success in securing mates, they weren't necessarily better or worse fathers.

"We found no evidence that males of any size, or from any social background, were more committed parents," Hopwood said.

The new research was published in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology.

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