Home » Latest Technology » Male sticklebacks are audacious risk-takers

Male sticklebacks are audacious risk-takers


Loose cannon (male Stickleback)



Male stickleback fish are bolder and take more risks than their female counterparts, according to research carried out at Swansea University.

The behaviour of 48 fish was studied in order to monitor the differences between individual fish and whether the gender of a stickleback was responsible for determining any of its behavioural qualities. Dr Andrew King of Swansea University, who lead the research, said that he expected the males to be bolder in a new environment: “Males can take risks because they haven’t got as much to lose,” he explained.

After catching the fish from a large tank, King and his team numbered the sticklebacks in the order they were caught and transferred them to a different container. This new environment contained a shelter on one end and a tile hiding food on the other.

“After both experiments we tested if the time a fish spent out of shelter was correlated with the order we caught them. We found the fish that were caught first were also more likely to be exploratory in the new tank,” said King.

The fish who dared to explore the tile were rewarded with food, although King was keen to point out that they also put themselves at considerable risk by exploring the unknown. “If you’re really bold and go in search of food you’re more likely to be caught by a predator, or an experimenter with a net,” explained King. “You might get more food, but you’re also more likely to get eaten.”

The scientists soon discovered that the fish who were caught first and behaved recklessly, were also predominantly male. “It’s fascinating really,” said King, “while we see these groups as one, there’s huge variation amongst individuals. You can take two females of the same age, same background, same everything, and you put them in similar situations but they behave entirely differently, one goes off exploring and the other doesn’t move”.


King and his team are now interested in finding out how other animals often found in groups, such as a flock of birds, may behave differently from one another.

Detailed information can be found on PLoS ONE.