Nature & Animals

Liar lyre: male lyrebirds try to get more sex with frightening falsehoods : Research Highlights

Animal behaviour

The male’s misleading alarm calls could help to keep the female in his embrace.

Humans sometimes misrepresent their age to hook a potential date. Some birds also use deception: researchers have found that certain male lyrebirds falsely signal that a predator is nearby to boost their chances of mating.

The superb lyrebird (Menura novaehollandiae), which lives in Australia, is known for the elaborate song-and-dance routine that males use to woo females. Anastasia Dalziell at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and her colleagues observed this courtship and found that, when a female started to leave a male’s territory without mating, the male imitated the sound of many birds of various species making alarm calls and dashing at a predator. Females that heard such false alarms sometimes stayed close or returned to the male’s territory.

Male lyrebirds used the same acoustic hoax during sex, probably because it led females to stick around for a few extra seconds, helping the male to deposit sperm at the far end of the female’s reproductive tract. During sex, the male also ‘blindfolded’ his mating partner by covering her head with his wings — a behaviour that might prevent females from detecting the male’s trickery, the authors say.

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