British researchers have found that fat crickets do better with the ladies than their slimmer peers1. Until now, biologists had presumed that it was the other way round.
In order to attract the ladies, male crickets rub their wings together to produce a special call. Their success depends on how loud the call is and how often they repeat it, as this makes it more likely that a female will notice and respond. Biologists previously believed that male crickets invest more time pursuing and attracting females to mate with when they lack food: confronted with impending death, their only option to pass on their genes would be to procreate as soon as possible. It was believed that starving crickets would therefore invest more time into calling for a new mate, ultimately leading to higher reproductive success. In contrast, well-fed crickets were thought to have enough resources to wait out the pursuits of the eager hungry crickets; they could simply make their move on the ladies after starvation has eliminated the competition.
In a fascinating turn of events, however, it transpires that exactly the opposite occurs. Scientists installed microphones in cricket cages and measured precisely how much time males spent making their sex calls. They then observed whether this changed when crickets were given different diets. The cricket they studied was the tropical house cricket Gryllodes sigillatus. These bad boys definitely adhere to the live fast, die young lifestyle — though they only live for about a month, they mate once a day and produce lots of baby critters.
Unfortunately, the sex calls are very expensive for the male cricket, as it costs a lot of energy to produce a good call. This is precisely where the success of chubby crickets comes in. The scientists found that males could spend more time and energy on their calls if there was more food available. Starving crickets simply cannot muster up the strength to call out for sex — even in the second week of the experiment, closer to the cricket expiration date, they called out less than well-fed crickets. This refuted the previous belief that starving crickets think strategically and invest their limited energy into procreation. Instead, sex calls among crickets are simply determined by energy availability and that is why being fat gets them more action.
So you can have your cake and eat it too — that is, if you are a cricket.
Edited by Sarah Spence and copyedited by Kim Wood
- You can find the original research here: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1365-2435.12766/abstract