Dive Dry with Dr. Bill

#229: Mate Selection

Here on Catalina Island we have a spot the locals refer to as "Horny Corner." Even the least perceptive eye will probably recognize it as the corner of Catalina and Crescent (or Front Street if you prefer) Avenues. Yep, right there at the end of the green "Pleasure Pier" (how appropriate). I don't think I need to go into any depth as to why it has earned this label. I really have no desire to risk the ire of the censors by offering such details. Besides, I can't really remember much about what it all means anyway. Suffice it to say the young boys and girls in this town go there to cast their nets like fishers in hopes of reeling something in. There, I've said enough already. I'm sure you got the idea!

Mating behavior in our local species, Homo catalinensis avalonensis, really isn't much different than that in most species. Well there are exceptions such as the sea urchin or abalone which simply cast their sperm and egg into the surrounding waters and hope for a "miracle." Although sewing one's wild oats is a phrase often applied to youth, it really isn't a reproductive strategy that works well in our species... fortunately. Besides, successful mating in our youth is not something we generally condone even in these far more liberal times than those I grew up in.

Red blooded American males are always looking for mates. In that sense they are little different from our hot blooded garibaldi, kelpfish, soupfin sharks or lobster. However, unlike those species, our males seem to have no specific mating season. Now this could easily lead to a "population bomb" with many more megatons than even Paul Ehrlich forecast back in the 1960's. Fortunately there are natural constraints that limit these innate male desires. No. I'm not talking about a little pill. I'm thinking of something much more akin to Nancy Reagan's infamous "just say no" (shouldn't that be no thank you?). We all know young men are too driven by their hormones to rein themselves in. However, the females of the species have the power to constrain their overly anxious peers... by exercising something known as "mate selection." To make this a bit less controversial, I'll switch gears from humans to other critters to make my points on this subject. Does that make you feel a bit relieved? I knew it would. Besides, what do I know about this subject when it comes to human beings anyway? I'm a marine biologist.

Let's look at an example that used to be resident in the area of the former Bird Park in Avalon, and the Middle Canyon area. I'm referring to the peacocks that roamed the hills, and gave out their plaintive cries at night to announce their presence. Sound familiar? I knew it would, at least for the old-timers of us here. Now those who have seen these males in zoos may have observed their attempts at capturing the hearts of their ladies. By the way... their lady folk are NOT peacocks, they are peahens. Males will spread their huge tails with the brightly colored feathers in an attempt to seduce their potential mate. They will parade around with their tail upright, and even use it to try to corral the object of their affliction (er, I mean affection) into a corner.

I'll bet this sounds somewhat familiar to you as well. As hard as they try, the peacock's success in this endeavor usually rests with the female. If she is willing, it will be the end to a perfect date. If not, the lad goes home to try, try again. Yes, the female usually is able to practice a little strategy known as "mate selection." She chooses whom she wishes to mate with (although not usually after a careful analysis of his DNA). Watch the pigeons on Front Street (very close to horny corner I might add). They do a very similar thing, only the males fluff up their colored neck feathers... and the female pigeons (technically non-native European rock doves) chose between their potential mate and the popcorn or bread you've thrown at them to munch on. I might add that based on my field observations, munching almost always wins out over mating in that species. It seems to be the case with my dates as well, and I didn't need to conduct a scientific study to prove that.

Let's take all this down to the sea. That's where you expect to find me, and I don't want to disappoint anyone. Several months ago I was diving one of my favorite sites, Ship Rock. Due to the currents, Captain Tony had anchored the King Neptune on the southern side of this emergent pinnacle. I was diving in the 30-40 foot range towards the end of my dive. Suddenly an octopus crawled out from under a few rocks and made its way across the bottom. It was closely followed by a second octopus, which reached out its arms to try to grasp the first one. Based on presumed parallels with human behavior, I quickly assumed that the first octopus was the female and the second one was the male. Of course this comes after decades of experience... with both species!

Fortunately my camera rolled as soon as I saw the first octopus emerge, and I followed them until they both disappeared about 10-15 feet away. Using that video footage, I was able to piece together what I considered an interesting example of mate selection in the marine environment. From their behavior, I confirmed that the pursuer was indeed the male, and the "pursuee" the female. His attempts to grab her were futile... quite surprising since he possessed eight arms to hold her. Her desire to flee seemed a pretty clear indication that she was exercising her right to "mate selection," and a firm "no" was the answer she was giving to this male octopod. He was fully intent on sea-ducing her right in front of my eyes (obviously he had no hint of modesty).

She briefly ended up with her back against a rock, and one of his arms reached out and touched the sweet young thing. Obviously this chemically crazed cephalopod male was not getting her message. When this happened, the lovely lady resorted to a second form of "mate selection" (or should I say rejection) that I've never observed or filmed before. Now, I have a reputation in the dive community of being one of the premiere underwater pornographers, so if I haven't filmed it already... it must be something a bit unusual. The young lady began squirting clouds of her olive-brown ink at her lustful "companion" (and I use the term loosely). Not once, but several times. He finally seemed to get the hint, and she quickly retired into a protective cavelet to hide from any further advances. I guess he was just not her type.

Now, men we've all experienced examples of "mate selection" in our own lives. I'm sure you all know what I mean. In fact, I'm probably an expert on this subject! However, I'm ever the optimist. I will never admit defeat, nor will I lower myself to the depths of "Horny Corner" (the patrons are much too young). I will continue my pursuit of the perfect dive buddy by hanging out with the lovely ladies in neoprene at our Casino Point Dive Park or out on the King Neptune. All I ask, ladies, is if I'm ever bold enough to reach out to you, don't ink on me... unless it is water soluble! A simple slap in the face will suffice.

© 2007 Dr. Bill Bushing. Watch the "Dive Dry with Dr. Bill" underwater videos on Catalina Cable TV channel 49, 10:00 AM and 5:00 PM weekdays. Please help me climb out of self-imposed poverty... buy my "Munching and Mating in the Macrocystis," "Great White Sharks of Guadalupe," "Calimari Concupiscence: Mating Squid, " "Playful Pinnipeds: California Sea Lions," "Belize It or Not: Western Caribbean Invertebrates, Fish and Turtles," "Gentle Giants: Giant Sea Bass" or "Common Fish and Invertebrates of the Sea of Cortez" DVD's. Yes, take Dr. Bill home with you... we'll both be glad you did!

Male octopus (lower right) pursuing female octopus (upper left) and getting squirted with her ink.

This document maintained by Dr. Bill Bushing.
Material and images © 2006 Star Thrower Educational Multimedia