The Loh Down On Science

What's the best way to keep a female happy?

Male eurasian jay feeds female. Image courtesy of Ostojic et al., PNAS 2012.

Who knew male jaybirds were so . . . emo?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science. 

Male Eurasian jays bond with their mates by offering them food.  They, of course, aim to please.  On the menu?  Insects, insects, and more insects.  But how’s a guy to know which kinds, and when?

Enter Nicola Clayton, from University of Cambridge.  She housed pairs of, uh, lovebirds, in adjacent cages.  This way, males could pass food to females—and had total control over what they ate.  Then she gave the males plates of moth larvae and mealworms.  Mmm!  Each beau re-gifted the buggy bonbons randomly.  At least until Clayton gave females their own bowlful of one of the goodies.

Then?  Each male mostly delivered the other food.  That is, he noted what she’d eaten.  Then deduced that her pretty little heart would desire something different.  Aww!  This ability to assume what another wants is called “state attribution.” Only humans were known to do it.

Of course, human females prefer chocolate, but study for another day!

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The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

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