Invisible antlers

I've always been a little confused by the "male display" explanation for elaborate feathers and antlers and so on. What have they got to do with real survival capability? Why is it a winning evolutionary strategy for females to be impressed? But for whatever reason, they seem to work, unless there's another explanation for their natural selection. Anyway, it's fascinating to see that male beaked whales may have internal antlers that are invisible except to echo-locating females of the species:
These inner structures don’t wreck the whales’ streamlined bodies, as horns or external ornaments surely would. That’s important given how frequently they dive. With internal antlers, they could get the advertising space of a bus and the profile of a Ferrari at the same time.


Grim said...

That's pretty cool.

Ymar Sakar said...

Humans just thump chests and do the male gorilla thing.

Remember when you see two of em face each other and they're doing the height contest and staring contest.

So while feathers is probably not part of this survival scheme, antlers or other intimidating tools that can be used as social violence winners, help survival by ensuring that competition doesn't take your resources.

1. This is my stool and our bar.
2. Hey, get off my stool and stop changing the music/channel.
3. *Stands up* You want to make something of it.
4. *gets in their face, arms spayed* Let's see what you got
5. *pushes him away*

This is what people mean normally when they talk about bar and street fights. Everyone on both sides claim self defense, but the police is forced to rule it a fight, a mutually assured conflict.

1. Watcha looking at punk?
2. *shrugs* Nothing
3. You saying I'm nothing?


alethiophile said...

The short version of why otherwise useless things like peacock's tails evolved: They signal "I'm so successful, I can afford to waste metabolic resources growing a giant elaborate tail!" (Then, of course, it gets into a feedback loop of sexual selection.)

Texan99 said...

That's what I've read, but I've never understood why it doesn't get out-competed by strategies that use real abilities to signal ability, instead of wasting resources on simulacra.

Grim said...

It sounds like there are two possible answers:

1) It's a strategy that's only available to those who are really more successful to begin with, so that others can't out-compete them because the others are too inferior.

2) Impressing girls is itself a highly effective reproductive strategy, because girls control reproduction.

The first option strikes me as logically less-likely, since it could only arise via random mutation in a fairly unlikely way -- mutations that gave rise to strong competitive advantages, somehow coupled with mutations that gave rise to displays. Yet we see this kind of display very widespread in the animal kingdom, from fish to birds to lizards to mammals.

So it's probably (2), unless there's a basic flaw in our understanding of how species arise. Now that seems to me to be plausible for several reasons, actually, but it's hotly disputed by biologists.

Still, it's possible to imagine that there are only so many forms of organization in a set of chromosomes that will function correctly (i.e., prove to lead to organisms that survive). So the rise of species is a little less random than we think: in a way, the species 'already' exist, in the sense that the structure of the world is such that it has room for some specific forms and not other.

That would explain both the timeline difficulties that evolution opponents sometimes raise, and the problem that's bothering you. But it implies that there's something about the world itself that loves display. Beautiful birds or fish or lizards are beautiful because reality 'wants' them to be, in the sense that reality is structured to support the specific forms of animals that are beautiful. If that's true, and almost across the board for animal life, it would be a very interesting fact.

E Hines said...

I've never understood why it doesn't get out-competed by strategies that use real abilities to signal ability, instead of wasting resources on simulacra.

Grim has stumbled on the answer in the last of his post. It's 'cos, and only 'cos, we males are so ineffably cool.

Eric Hines