Locking horns for the ladies
Men have traditionally competed for the affections of women. It’s no different in the natural word as Emily Kench of the RSPB explains.
Males have competed for their women for centuries. In films, we have witnessed everything from jousting, to brawls, to cinematic showdowns. In dayto-day life however, this physical confrontation is (hopefully) less frequent than it’s made out to be in the movies.
The competition between men (scientifically known as male-tomale competition, or intrasexual competition) continues to linger in various forms.
In fact, while we may interpret this competition as too much testosterone and pride, men have actually evolved to compete for mates.
Basically males of most species have ‘unlimited’ sperm: the more females they reproduce with, the wider the distribution of their genes. If you’re good at mating and passing on your genes, it’s likely your offspring will be good at mating too, and while this sounds a little perverse, that’s what females want from their offspring and explains why so many of us fall for a ‘bad boy’.
You and I, and others in the animal world, have a predisposed desire to distribute our genes for generations to come.
Females therefore choose their mates according to how successful they are. We have limited eggs, so we wouldn’t want to waste them on anybody!
Males compete and females choose their champion. Females look for a whole host of attractive traits in a partner: one example of this might be income in humans; a man who earns more will in theory be able to raise lots of healthy children.
Physical traits also play their part. For instance, women have been proven to find a deeper voice in men more attractive. Other men find it more intimidating. Let’s face it; you wouldn’t take on Sylvester Stallone in a fight. Consequently, men with lower voices are theoretically alpha males.
Finding a deep voice sexy isn’t exclusive to the human race. Female red deer are attracted to the deep roar of a stag: the deeper the roar, the larger the body size.
As in humans, the effect of this deep roar is two-fold. A hind (female red deer) will seek out a reverberating roar, whilst a lessmanly stag will go out of his way to avoid it.
Stags can size one another up by hearing their roar, helping them to decide whether or not to take up a physical fight.
Roaring can resonate throughout the day and night, with the larynx of the stag pumping this word of warning up to every two minutes. It is not without effect. By judging the physique and strength of their opponent, locking antlers is often avoided.
But sometimes, the appeal of a harem of hinds is enough to entice a lonesome stag to take on the dominant rival.
Come early September, tearaway teenagers gather at RSPB Minsmere, taunting one another with their breaking voices. These young stags, two and threeyears-old are not quite mature, but are beginning to exert their dominance, making their voice heard early.
However, the real men are on their way, full of experience, testosterone and strength. The velvet of their antlers has been rubbed off on the barks of trees,
strengthening their powerful necks, ready for battle. Having fed away from the reserve, they return in style. The hinds are coming into season. The days may be shorter, but these stags won’t sleep: they are prepared.
Burly bucks bellow across the reserve, making their presence known.
The strongest stag will make his mark, claiming his harem. He will mate with as many hinds as possible. Though while unaware, and busy, he is likely to be cuckolded, with smaller stags sneaking in from the sidelines, ready to romp with a female out of sight.
If feeling particularly brave and prepared to size up to the raucous roar of the alpha, these evenly matched males will lock antlers in a life-threatening conflict. Battles are not taken lightly: they are a last resort as consequences may be fatal.
The champion will reign supreme, able to mate with as many hinds as possible and distribute his genes. Having proven itself in a potential battle to the death, females will fall at his feet.
See the stags for yourself on a visit to RSPB Minsmere this autumn and witness the drama of the red deer. We promise it won’t disappoint.
Ask at the visitor centre to find the best spot to watch the spectacle, or call the team on 01728 648301.
Alternatively, hire one of our guides for a 4x4 safari around the reserve to observe the red deer rut at close quarters: a great opportunity to take some amazing photographs.
Picture by Ben Andrews. Picture by Bill Ebbesen
Picture: John Evans