Bluestreak cleaner wrasses servicing a “client.”
Our legal system was built on the idea that different crimes warrant different punishments. Aggravated assault will snag you less jail time then, say, premeditated murder. And with no small degree of hubris, many of us believe that we’re the only animals on the planet to implement such a discerning system. But scientists have now learned that a species of fish also punish delinquents according to the severity of their crimes.
Starting life as females, bluestreak cleaner wrasse band together to clean off parasites and dead tissue from bigger fish, including sharks. At some point, the largest wrasse in a group, which typically has about 16 members, will change sex, become harem master, and reproduce with the others.
Yet while they normally feed on parasites, wrasse females actually prefer something a bit tastier: their clients’ mucus. However, a misplaced mucus nibble can annoy the client and thereby drive off the group’s food source, so males chase and bite any females caught misbehaving. Last year, scientists saw that punished females seem to fall back in line.
A new study out in the American Association of Wine Economist’s “Wine Economics” journal suggests that monogamous societies are bigger drinkers than those in polygamous societies. Does this mean that being stuck with only one partner drives us to the bottle, or does drinking make us more likely to settle down?
Actually the answer is most likely neither. Both monogamy and drunkenness seem to be related to economics, or at least, that’s why both seem to have blossomed during the industrial revolution. Jo Swinnen, one of the study’s authors, told The New York Times Freakonomics blog (which seemed to have missed the actual conclusion of the study) that he noticed the correlation over, unsurprisingly, a glass of wine:
The inspiration came from a casual observation (over a glass of wine) that the two social/religious groups that do allow polygamy ((parts of) Mormonism and Islam) also do not consume alcohol. So we wondered whether this was a coincidence or not.
While many studies have compared alcohol and cultural traits, this is the study to look at its relationship with polygamy. The researchers compared the marital style and “frequency of drunkenness” of 44 well-documented pre-industrial societies (24 of which were polygamous; 20 monogamous) and found that monogamy was indeed positively correlated with drunkenness. The paper (pdf) says: