Prevalence of allosuckling behaviour in Subantarctic fur seal pups
Non-offspring maternal care should be rare due to the high costs of raising offspring, particularly lactation, but nonetheless occurs in a variety of taxa. Misguided parental care, associated with recognition errors and/or inattentiveness by lactating females, has been hypothesized as an explanation for allolactation in mammals. In an extension of this hypothesis, we suggest that milk-stealing is parasitism instigated by non-filial offspring, and that maternal behaviour is of secondary interest in an evolutionary context if she is unaware of the interaction. We provide evidence for frequent milk-stealing attempts by Subantarctic fur seal (Arctocephalus tropicalis) pups, including an example of sustained non-maternal care (> three months) for one pup during the confirmed absence of his mother, leading to a weaning mass equal to the population mean. We also present only the second account of fostering/twins in the species at this locality. We suggest that rather than the hitherto suggested rare and anomalous behaviour, milk-stealing behaviour (while not always successful) is common.
KeywordsArctocephalus tropicalis Milk-theft Parasitism Marion Island Maternal investment
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