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Lady Crickets Can Be Cougars, Too


The term ‘cougar’ — referring to an older woman who pounces on a younger man — used to be an insult. Remember the most famous cougar of the ’90s? Mary Kay Letourneau, the 34-year-old teacher who slept with her 12-year-old student. She went to prison for seven years. (Ok, so Mary was more of a pedophile than a cougar, but you get my point.)

It’s different now. Cougars are everywhere, and not only accepted, but chic (Samantha Jones, Demi & Ashton, Cougar Town). They’re independent, sassy and smart. And this month, they’re finally getting some recognition from the scientific world. Female field crickets, it turns out, prefer the serenades of younger males.

At first blush, cougars don’t make much evolutionary sense. After all, the older the male, the more he has to offer — be it mansions and yachts or long tarsal spurs — and the longer he has resisted the trappings of the cruel world. Old men are survivors, in other words, so their genes should hold the keys to earthly success.

It’s a bit more complicated than that, though. In a new study, Luke Verburgt and colleagues from the University of Pretoria analyzed the acoustics of mating songs of male field crickets (Gryllus bimaculatus) every day of their adult lives. The team discovered that 10 to 12-day-old crickets’ songs are louder, higher pitched and last longer than those of geriatric 48 to 50-day-olds.

Next, the researchers placed female crickets in the middle of a box that was connected by tunnel to a chamber with one speaker on the left and another on the right. The poor dears heard, simultaneously, the energetic songs of young crickets coming from one speaker, and the languid songs of old crickets from the other. Ninety percent of the time, the ladies walked through the tunnel and turned toward the speaker blaring songs from the younger males.

This, like so much of the animal behavior literature, probably has something to do with sperm. As men get older, they produce less sperm, and it acquires genetic mutations — sometimes harmful — that can be passed down to their offspring. (Some researchers claim, for example, that this explains why older fathers are more likely to have children with autism.) So to all the cougars out there, I say: roar on.


This work was published in the January issue of Animal Behaviour

Image by kevincollins123, via Flickr

This post was originally published on The Last Word on Nothing