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.

Let's Talk - - CONTENT - To find out more about the RSPB visit www.rspb.org.uk For in­for­ma­tion and ad­vice on ways to give na­ture a home in your back gar­dens and com­mu­ni­ties, visit rspb.org.uk/ my­plan For more in­for­ma­tion, visit rspb.org.uk/mins­mere.

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

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