4 November 2012

Lyes of attraction

Except for the occasional white lie here and there, most of us try to avoid deceiving our families and friends and dislike being lied to by others. Lying is not considered a positive trait and people who tell fibs too often are mistrusted and usually find that they have fewer friends than they thought they did.

As you undoubtedly know, lying is a particularly huge issue in relationships and has probably broken up more couples over human history than we can record. This comes as no surprise and dumped liars rarely receive sympathy as we all know that it's their own fault. What is odd though, is that not all animals share our views on lying and for one species in particular, the Australian lyrebird, the better an individual can lie the more popular they are!

Lyrebirds are among the most esteemed of Australia's native animals and are famous for their impressive prowess of 'lying'.  There are just 2 species of lyrebird: the superb lyrebird (Menura novaehollandiae) that is pictured above and Albert's lyrebird (Menura alberti), which belong to their own unique genus.

In fact, being able to lie well is much more important than simply for making an individual popular - it is an essential skill that a male bird must master if he wants to attract a mate! Lyrebirds, you see, have one of the most sophisticated courtship rituals in nature, which involves splaying their luxurious tail feathers (in much the same way as a peacock), and mimicking as many noises as they possibly can. These sounds, which can be imitations of anything, such as other bird calls, car alarms and even chainsaws felling trees, are then incorporated into an elaborate song that the male may sing for up to 4 hours a day during breeding season (June to August)!

It appears that the more complex the courtship song, the more successful the male bird is in attracting a mate. Once a male lyrebird has successfully mated with a female bird, she lays a single egg in a nest that she's made on the ground, and incubates it as the sole parent for nearly 2 months.

Analysis of the songs made by courting lyrebirds has found that they are usually split into 7 clearly distinct sections, where about 80% of the entire song is made from mimicry. Male and female lyrebirds both become sexually mature before they are 10 years old, although it should be noted that females mature a few years earlier than males do. Due to this, male birds don't actually start singing properly until they are almost a decade old. Before then, males are believed to practise 'lying' where they learn to modulate their highly developed voice box so that it can mimic almost any sound they hear.

Thus, the ability to lie and produce a whole host of sounds that are not normally made by lyrebirds is a huge part of their culture and has made the passerine (song) birds one of the most noted birds in Australia, and maybe even in the world.

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