Parental care can be costly to a parent in terms of both time and energy invested in the young. In species with cuckoldry or brood parasitism not all of the young under a parent's care are necessarily offspring. In such cases, distinguishing between kin and non-kin, and investing only in the former (nepotism), can be advantageous. Bluegill sunfish (Lepomis macrochirus) are characterized by paternal care and cuckoldry, and care-providing males appear to show nepotistic behaviours. Here, we investigated nestling recognition in bluegill, determining whether parental males can differentiate between young from their own nest (familiar and related) and young from non-neighbouring nests (unfamiliar and unrelated) using (1) visual and chemical cues, and (2) chemical cues only. In the first experiment, wild-caught parental males were presented with samples of eggs or fry (newly hatched eggs) collected from their own nest or a foreign nest and placed on opposite sides of an aquarium. The time these parental males spent associating with each sample, and their "pecking" behaviours (indicating cannibalism), were recorded. Parental males showed no preference between eggs from their own nest and eggs from a non-neighbouring nest, but they preferred to associate with fry from their own nest over foreign fry. There also was a positive relationship between male body size and the time spent associated with fry from their own nest. Parental males pecked at foreign fry more than 5 times as often as fry from their own nest, though this difference was not statistically significant. In the second experiment, fry that were collected from the nest of a wild-caught parental male or a non-neighbouring nest were placed in different containers and the water from each was dripped into opposite ends of an aquarium. The time the male spent on each side was recorded. In this case, parental males spent more time near the source of water conditioned by unrelated fry, but there was a positive relationship between male condition (fat reserves) and the time he spent near the source of water conditioned by fry from his own nest. Results confirm that chemicals cue nestling recognition by parental male bluegill.
Fish nest observations