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On the Control of Behaviour During the Reproductive Cycle of Gasterosteus Aculeatus

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image of Behaviour

1. The cycle of reproductive behaviour in the male Gasterosteus aculcatus consists of a succession of phases. When the fish has established a territory it begins to nest. First, the fish digs in the sand until a pit is formed; it then ceases to dig and collects nest material which is deposited in the pit, pressed and glued down firmly; it then bores a tunnel through this mass of material in which the female will later lay eggs. When the nest is thus completed the male becomes sexually responsive. The purpose of the experiments was to investigate how far these changes in behaviour are controlled by the changing state of the nest, other factors in the external situation remaining constant; and how far, on the other hand, they are controlled by internal processes. 2. At different stages of the cycle, the nest, partly constructed or complete, was removed and the sand pit levelled out, and the fish's readiness to dig a new pit recorded. 3. Just after the fish begins to build in the pit, it shows a strong tendency to continue collecting and a reluctance to start digging again after the nest is removed and the pit obliterated. At a later stage of nest-building, the time lapse before digging is resumed is even more prolonged, the fish may continue to glue for a while in the absence of any nest-material or pit. In the sexual phase, a new pit is not dug until after several hours, and sexual responsiveness remains high for at least one hour. Moreover, the old nest may be accepted if it is returned, even after an interval of 3 to 5 hours. The behaviour of a fish at different stages does not therefore seem to depend solely on the immediate external situation, and the threshold of different activities vary during the course of the cycle. 4. Fertilisation of a clutch of eggs, which immediately reduces sexual activity, also immediately facilitates digging, so that the high threshold of this activity during the sexual phase appears to be due to the inhibitory efect on it of sexual activity.

Affiliations: 1: Dept. of Zoology and Comp. Anatomy, University of Oxford


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