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

in Behaviour
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Abstract

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.

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Figures

  • Platypus history and breeding information.

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  • Flow chart of the behaviours exhibited by male and female platypuses during the breeding season.

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  • Types of breeding behaviours and a description of their presentation that were observed. Territorial and searching behaviour was observed but not measured in this study.

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  • (a) A male and female platypus in contact courtship; (b) a puncture wound and scratches on the ventral side of the tail of a female platypus after courtship and mating behaviours.

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  • Time investment in courtship and mating behaviours in successful and unsuccessful breeding years including the number of days the behaviours occurred, the total time invested in each behaviour, the number of behavioural events and the average duration of each event.

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  • Total time spent (mean ± SE) per platypus in each behaviour type in a mating season by animals housed in either a pair or trio. The pair contained one male and one female, while the trio contained one male and two females. There was no significant difference between pairs and trios for each behaviour (p=0.19, 0.07 and 0.61, respectively). Dark grey, pair; light grey, trio; circles, data points for each year.

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  • Individual experience of the two females and the duration invested in breeding behaviours. (a) Total duration per year; (b) NCC; (c) CC; (d) mating behaviours per year. Black, female A, Grey, female B. Caret (Aˆ) denotes years that were unsuccessful.

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  • (Continued.)

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  • Percentage of encounters that were ended by either a male or a female. Light grey, non-contact courtship; dark grey, contact courtship; black, mating.

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  • Activity levels of male and female platypuses in minutes awake per day (mean ± SE). Pre-mating season (dark grey) = the 90 days preceding the first courtship behaviour; Mating season (moderate grey) = the days between the first courtship and last mating; Post-mating season (light grey) = 90 days following last mating. Circles denote data range for average activity, one circle per animal per year.

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  • Mean daily spread of activity for males and females. (a) Pre-mating season activity (three months prior to the first courtship and mating behaviour); (b) mating season activity (duration of courtship and mating behaviours); (c) post-mating season activity (three months after the last courtship and mating behaviour); (d) pre-mating season activity when animals were in a trio in 2015. Black, male; dark grey, older female; light grey, younger female.

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  • (Continued.)

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