Study: Contented males fare better with the 'ladies'

November 25, 2013

Happy, sane males have better love lives - at least for minks.

A first-ever study from the University of Guelph reveals that relaxed, content male mink raised in enriched environments - cages complete with pools, toys and swings - are more successful in the mating season.

The research, led by animal welfare expert Prof. Georgia Mason and her doctoral student Maria Diez-Leon, appears today in PLOS ONE, an international journal published by the Public Library of Science.

The findings may help improve mating among captive animals, especially those with breeding problems such as giant pandas and Canada's rare black-footed ferrets.

"With many captive carnivores, it can be hard to get males to mate: some are too aggressive, while others just seem not that interested," said Mason, a behavioural biologist specializing in how animals adapt to captive housing conditions.

"Our findings suggest that improving their welfare via better housing could help make the difference. We also hope our results will encourage more use of enrichments on mink farms."

The study involved 32 female American mink and 32 males, with half of the latter raised in enriched cages. Over two years, the same males were offered as mates to two different sets of female mink.

Females were free to wander and choose between enriched or non-enriched males.

At mating time, the males were presented in identical cages. "Each female could only see her suitors, not whether or not they had cool real estate and a swimming pool," Mason said.

Males raised with enrichments gained nearly twice as many matings.

"We can't tell if the enriched males are more attractive, keener on mating or both," said Mason. "But the secret to their success is their calmer, more normal behaviour."

Enriched males avoid the repetitive pacing and head-twirling common among mink raised in non-stimulating environments. Such behaviours reduce males' success with females, Mason said.

Males from enriched houses are also physically bigger and heavier, with bigger spleens indicating better immune systems. They have higher testosterone levels, suggesting greater libidos, and they even have better developed penis bones.

"How important these other changes are to females is something we hope to look at next," said Mason.

"But first and foremost, living a good, low stress life, one that results in a healthy, well-developed brain, is what really helps them succeed."

Diez-Leon added: "Our results confirm what has been long suspected: that males raised in barren environments are at risk of developing into physically and psychologically unattractive adults, which affects breeding in captivity."

"Enriched housing conditions could provide a solution, with the added benefit of enhancing animals' welfare."

The researchers studied mink because housing enrichments that improve their welfare are well-understood and because females are known to be choosy about mates, said Mason, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Animal Welfare in Guelph's Department of Animal and Poultry Science and is a faculty member in U of G's Campbell Centre for the Study of Animal Welfare.
-end-
The study also involved scientists from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Laurentian University, as well as researchers from the United States, Spain and Austria.

University of Guelph

Related Animal Welfare Articles from Brightsurf:

Welfare concerns highlighted over 'institutional hoarding' of cats
The compulsive hoarding of animals is a poorly understood psychiatric disorder in people.

The nexus between economic inequality and social welfare
A new interpretation of the concept of inequity - in the sense of unequal distributions across individuals, time and states of the world -- and a new, general measure of welfare from a study just published in the Journal of Economic Surveys, with the contribution of the CMCC Foundation.

Simple way of 'listening' to chicks could dramatically improve welfare
New research led by the University of Plymouth suggests a simple and low-cost method of 'listening' to chicks may allow welfare issues to be picked up at the earliest possible opportunity.

Designing animal studies to improve research reproducibility and reduce animal use
At the invitation of the University of Bern, international experts worked out new recommendations for the design of animal studies.

Elephant welfare can be assessed using two indicators
In two new studies, scientists from the University of Turku, Finland, have investigated how to measure stress in semi-captive working elephants.

Tighten up law on keeping dangerous snakes as pets, demand animal welfare experts
The law on keeping dangerous snakes as pets should be tightened up, animal welfare experts demand in this week's issue of the Vet Record.

Researchers say animal-like embryos preceded animal appearance
Animals evolved from single-celled ancestors before diversifying into 30-40 distinct anatomical designs.

Body language key to zoo animal welfare
Watching the behavior and body language of zoo animals could be the key to understanding and improving their welfare, new research suggests.

Ancient animal species: Fossils dating back 550 million years among first animal trails
Shuhai Xiao, a professor of geosciences, calls the unearthed fossils, including the bodies and trails left by an ancient animal species, the most convincing sign of ancient animal mobility, dating back about 550 million years.

Animal ethics and animal behavioral science -- bridging the gap
Animal ethics is an emerging concern across many disciplines. In an article in BioScience, an interdisciplinary group of scholars urges that this issue be taken up actively by animal behavior scientists.

Read More: Animal Welfare News and Animal Welfare Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.