Jiminy Cricket from the movie Pinocchio was a top-hat-wearing, umbrella-toting conscionable crooner, but if researchers are right, the fictional cricket from Walt Disney's studio would also have taken a bullet for the one he loved.
If you think chivalry is dead, take a lesson from crickets, researchers reported Thursday.
Male field crickets (Gryllus campestris) will expose themselves to danger, namely hungry predators, to protect a female during mating, scientists found by snooping on cricket couples with infrared cameras. Much like a man opens a door for a woman, male crickets allow the females to hide in burrows, even if that means that male cricket sticks out like a meal ticket.
Scientists had studied crickets in a lab setting before and concluded that male crickets shoved females into tight spaces in order to hold them prisoner until mating was competed and to thwart off other males.
Not so in the wild, the entomologists found.
Here is the tradeoff that scientists found: male crickets produced more offspring when they protected their amour even as the chivalry increased their chances of death.
Many people probably think that 'chivalrous' behavior is exclusive of humans or closely related mammals, linking it in some way to education, intelligence, or affection, said Rolando Rodríguez-Muñoz of the University of Exeter and lead author of the study. We show that even males of small insects, which we would not define as intelligent or affective, can be 'chivalrous' or protective with their partners. Perhaps it shines a light on the fact that apparently chivalrous acts may have ulterior motives. Did Sir Walter Raleigh throw his cape onto a muddy pool in front of Queen Elizabeth just because he was a nice guy? I think not.
The current study was published online Thursday in the journal Current Biology.
The notion of animal chivalry isn't so foreign. In a chapter aptly entitled Animal Chivalry, English physician Woods Hutchinson wrote about animal manners back in 1899.
We cannot deny to our animal cousins the possession of many, indeed nearly all, of the primate virtues - affection, courage, loyalty and faithfulness to the death; but we do deny them the moral credit for them, on the ground that they are the result of 'mere instinct', Hutchinson wrote.
In the study, the research team tagged crickets to determine their fate and found that singly, male and female crickets had the same chance of being eaten. If a pair was attacked while mating, the male's survival decreased as the female's survival increased. The researchers looked at the subsequent offspring and found that the vulnerable males, despite the danger, fathered more offspring.
Whether chivalry prevails in the offspring may depend.
We are looking forward to seeing whether chivalry prevails in future generations, Rodríguez-Muñoz said, noting that the current study is based on three consecutive mating seasons. There may be some years when both sexes behave in a more obviously selfish fashion and attempt to escape down the burrow first.