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Pregnant male pipefish play favorites

pipefish.jpg

I've been fascinated with the seahorse since the third grade, when I did a report on the fish and learned that the males are the ones to get pregnant and carry their young. (Believe me, I wished my husband was a seahorse many times during my two pregnancies!)

Today, I'm a little less impressed with the seahorse and its relative, the pipefish - thanks to a Nature study showing that these dads aren't quite as devoted and loving as I imagined. (Okay, okay, so this isn't exactly a medical study, but it does speak to pregnancy and issues of good parenting.) From Scientific American Observations:

A new study of seahorse cousins called pipefish found that the males can be particular-and proactive-about how they treat their developing young. These fishes' dedication to their unborn progeny appears depends on how suitable they find the female mate to be, reports a pair of researchers from Texas A&M University.

"If the male likes the mom, the kids are treated better," Kimberly Paczolt, of the Department of Biology at [Texas A&M University] and lead researcher in the study, said in a prepared statement.

An accompanying Nature editorial elaborates:

...As is evident from Paczolt and Jones's study, [the male's brood pouch] grants fathers better control over reproduction - males may use their role as carers not only to nurture the eggs but also to favour those from high-quality females and disfavour and/or exploit those of low-quality females. What at first sight seems an egalitarian partnership between males and females, both investing heavily in their young, looks more like brooding sexual conflict.

Photo by Akuppa

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