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Male Snails Carry the Burden of Promiscuous Female [VIDEO]

Aug 29, 2012 10:30 AM EDT

Females always have a strong interest in providing parental care for their offspring than the males in the animal kingdom, but a new study finds a male snail species raising the young - that too most of young ones that are not their genetic offspring.

Researchers from the University of California, Davis, studied the family secrets of the male of the marine whelk known as the Solenosteira macrospira. This species lives in the tidal mudflats off Baja California.

They found that the S. macrospira belonged to the group of male-only care, wherein the male species are indulged in raising their young - from laying eggs to hatching them. They also revealed that some of the offspring don't even belong to the particular male.

When females mate with males, they attach the capsules, with the eggs produced, to the shells covering it fully. Males carry the egg capsules containing more than two hundred eggs until they are hatched.

Experts found at least one in four (25 percent) of the eggs carried belonged to some other male whelk. How did the eggs of other males end up in the whelk's capsule? According to study author Rick Grosberg, a professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, the promiscuity of female whelks are more, wherein one female whelk mates with multiple sexual partners to increase the chances of the survival of their offspring as cannibalism is extreme among the young snail species.

"The promiscuity in the female snails is extraordinary," co-author Stephanie Kamel, a postdoctoral researcher in Grosberg's lab, said in a statement.

Once the eggs are hatched, a process which takes place for a month, some of the baby snails devour other little ones indulging in an act of cannibalism.

While females are known to take more care of their offspring, the males don't show much interest in caring for their young. But it excludes some marine creatures like the whelk and the sea horse which carries its own genetic offspring on its pouch.

Why would the male whelks have to carry the offspring of other males? One possibility suggested is that the snail species don't have many options left as they cannot mate with females without carrying the egg capsules on their shells. It might also be that the male whelks want to prove that they are good parent material, according to researchers.

The findings of the study are published in the journals Evolutionand Ecology.

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