With ninety-one species in Africa and Eurasia, antelope show quite a bit of variation in anatomy, morphology and mating behavior. The different species seem to show three distinct mating strategies. Recent studies demonstrate some very unusual trickery and fighting behavior associated with mating among these animals.
A Little About Antelope
Antelope are members of the bovid family, along with other hooved, ruminating, horned mammals. Ranging in size from the tiny dik-dik, at 16 pounds, to the royal antelope, at 2,100, all are fast runners with slender, powerful limbs. In some species both males and females possess horns; however, these are significantly more developed in males of species among which males fight each other for females during mating season.
Some antelope, such as the dik-dik, are generally monogamous. This seems to less from choice and more as a result of environmental and predatory constraints. Resources in certain forested habitats are sparse, and therefore the benefits of producing and providing for more than one offspring are small. In addition, these sparse forests allow for little cover from predators, thus making wandering from a home group dangerous. These antelope may pair off, or, when resources allow, one male may have a harem of two to four females.
Lek Breeding System
The lek breeding system is more like an auction. Males will enter a territory and fight over it while females observe and choose the most competitive male. This male then has breeding rights with all observing females. Topi and lechwes antelope are often seen using this strategy in areas where it is worthwhile for males to defend territory, such as those with optimal resources and low predation. When this is not the case, and the cost of maintaining territorial boundaries outweighs the benefits, females and males will abandon this strategy. Males will cease fighting for territory and will mate with any available females; this strategy comes with its own consequences, as harassing males may interrupting mating episodes.
Some larger male antelope will graze across larger distances, competing with males for herds of females. Once a male wins a dominant female over, her herd will become stationary and he can then potentially mate with all members. As calving season comes along, these groups tend to splinter, forming smaller, segregated groups, perhaps to protect themselves from predation. Bachelor males move on, repeating the process the following year.
The Cowardly Antelope
Recent studies looking more closely into antelope mating behavior, especially lekking, have found an interesting fact. You might imagine males battling over females would want to come across as strong and confident. However, some males, fearing they will not be able to mate, will as a female walks away let out a vocal signal indicating predator danger when no such danger exists. This causes a female to pause, and gives the male another opportunity to win her over.
- ADW: Hippotragus equinus
- National Geographic: Male Antelope Scare Females into Staying for Sex
- Time: How Male Antelopes Get the Girl: Feigning Fear
- BBC: Competition amongst Male Antelopes during Mating Season
- Oxford Journals: Lekking, Resource Defense, and Harassment in Two Subspecies of Lechwe Antelope [PDF]
- ADW: Aepyceros melampus
- Anup Shah/Photodisc/Getty Images