Do boys eat more than girls? It’s commonly known that young boys are the bottomless pits of the family, frequently emptying the fridge and eating parents out of house and home. But a recent study on Galapagos seals has shown humans aren’t the only species to put up with gluttonous males.
Galapagos seal mothers have to share their resources between their kids too and it’s the males who take the lions share, so much so, the females have to fend for themselves, diving for fish when they’re just two years old, while the males still receive milk from their mother.
Favouritism? Not really, since the mother doesn’t have much of a choice in the matter. Males are more demanding than females, and females benefit from separating themselves from their mother at an early age so they can mature faster and begin producing the next generation of seal pups.
As with most mammals, male Galapagos seals are larger than females because they need to compete with other males, and by drinking their mother’s milk males are able to grow larger than if they started foraging for fish.
It’s not always the children at fault though, because some parents have a tendency to spoil their kids. For example, sea birds like the black legged kittliwake prefer to raise male chicks rather than females and are thought to feed males more than females in order to increase the male’s size.
By producing strong males, parent kittiwakes are able to increase their success as a parent. This is because larger, stronger, males are more likely to compete successfully against other males and raise more grandchildren
Unfortunately, if you want to raise strong sons you need a full pantry. This applies to the black-legged kittliwakes more than most, as parents will tend to produce more male offspring if they are well fed and able to provide for them. If they aren’t well fed, black-legged kittliwakes will produce more female offspring, because any males they produce will most likely be weak and unsuccessful due to undernourishment. In this case, female offspring are more advantageous than weak males because they’re more likely to reproduce.
It seems in some species males are justified in their voracious appetites, and, at times, are even encouraged by their parents. However, that doesn’t mean all males are the same and sometimes it’s the females who receive the most food. Take young meerkats for example: meerkat pups beg for food form their elders, and elder females are more likely to feed female pups than male pups.
This is because meerkat males tend to look further afield to find their mates, whereas females tend to stick around and lend a helping hand to the rest of the group; be that through standing watch for predators, or helping feed the community pups themselves, so it’s not without good reason that males are left uncared for.
Does this help us explain human greed? Perhaps next time you catch your younger brother with his hand in the biscuit jar you’ll cut him some slack because, apparently, he’s not alone in the animal kingdom.