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Female control of reproductive behaviour in the platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus), with notes on female competition for mating

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image of Behaviour

Opportunities for studying platypus courtship and mating behaviours in the wild are limited due to the nocturnal and cryptic nature of this species. We report on platypus courtship and mating behaviour from a successful breeding program at Healesville Sanctuary, Victoria, in which platypuses were held as either breeding pairs or trios over seven years. Behaviour was recorded daily on infrared cameras resulting in over 80,000 h of footage that was analysed for activity periods, and courtship and mating behaviours including non-contact and contact courtship, mating and avoidance. Our aims were to describe and quantify courtship and mating interactions between males and females, and to determine if either sex controlled the initiation and continuation of the behaviours. From our observations, we describe a new courtship behaviour, non-contact courtship, which constituted the majority of all mating season interactions between males and females. The time between first and last appearance of a courtship and mating behaviour was 41.0 ± 6.6 days, with the females showing behavioural receptivity for 29.6 ± 5.1 days. Female platypuses used three evasive strategies in relation to approaches by males: avoidance, flight and resistance. Females controlled the duration of 79% of encounters using resistance. For the first time, two females were seen competing with each other over access to the male platypus in their enclosure and for nesting material. Time investment in courtship and mating behaviours was a poor indicator of receptivity and breeding success, and we suggest that breeding failure is more likely to be associated with failure of fertilisation, nest building, embryonic development or incubation. We describe how female platypuses demonstrate evasiveness and control of courtship and mating behaviours, and the importance of providing these opportunities in captivity to promote successful breeding.

Affiliations: 1: aHealesville Sanctuary, Healesville, VIC 3777, Australia ; 2: bSchool of Biosciences, The University of Melbourne, Parkville, VIC 3010, Australia ; 3: cWildlife Conservation and Science, Zoos Victoria, Parkville, VIC 3052, Australia ; 4: dDepartment of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Monash University, Clayton, VIC 3800, Australia

*Corresponding author’s e-mail address:

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