Friday, October 17, 2014

Baits, Mates, and Dates

Hello once again Fisi lovers!

Many of you may already know that in the society of the spotted hyena females are socially dominant to males. While aggressions on females by males are not done frequently there are instances where males show some aggression. These instances of aggression against females are known as baitings.

Baitings like instances of mating are not something that we see everyday in Talek West. However baitings have been making quite the appearance lately. I decided to investigate this phenomenon and with the help of a paper (Rare Male Aggression Directed toward Females in a Female-Dominated Society: Baiting Behavior in the Spotted Hyena by Szykman et al) I found some answers.

During a baiting several males will come together and attack a lone adult female. These males lunge, chase, sniff, and sometimes even bite the female! Females who are ready to produce another litter are more likely to be baited than females in other reproductive states. These instances of male aggression are unprovoked. When attacked the female exhibits behavior characteristic of both submission and aggression. Her ears are flat against her head, she is low to the ground as if crawling, and her teeth are exposed. She may also lunge and bite at her attackers.

TWST a Talek West female during a baiting. She has two cubs PCES and TRUS. Both of her cubs are almost ready to graduate.

Males have been shown to bait females of various social ranks. BORA, like TWST is another female who has undergone a baiting. She is a wonderful mother to her two cubs GOFA and RUNGU. Both of BORA’s cub have graduated, making her a prime candidate for another litter.  She is lower ranking than TWST and has been catching they eye of many of the males here in Talek. This increased male attention has made her the latest target of baitings.

BORA (center) counter attacking males during a baiting

Higher ranking immigrant males participate in baitings more frequently that lower rankers or natal males (males who are born in the clan).

A few of the males who frequently participate in these baitings are PENE, ZITI, JUBA, and KHTM.

Participation of natal males in baiting incidents is rare but it does happen occasionally. PENE and ZITI are both natal males to the Talek West Clan who have been found at many baiting scenes. These hyenas have both reached sexual maturity and should be getting ready to disperse (immigrate to another clan). Females are less likely to mate with males that were around as they were growing up which is one of the reasons why male hyenas disperse. 

4 year old Talek West natal male and brother of ZITI.

4 year old Talek West natal male and brother of PENE.

Talek West immigrant male. 

Talek West immigrant male

While there are many hypotheses about the function of baitings, the purpose of this behavior is still being examined. Some hypotheses suggest that baiting is a way for males to show their strength and fitness while others state it is a form of sexual harassment (Szykman et al). What do you think is the function of baitings? Is it a chance for the males to show off their “guns” or are they just being a nuisance?

Interested in learning more about this behavioral phenomenon? Stay tuned to the MSU hyena blog to see if we can solve this behavioral mystery.

No comments:

Michigan State University | College of Natural Science