06/19/2013 08:47 am ET

Older Males Make Better Fathers In Beetle Study


What do burying beetles have in common with humans? Older males are better fathers to their offspring, according to a new study.

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Exeter found that older male burying beetles, who were less likely to reproduce again, spent more time with their offspring than younger beetles.

The study went on to determine how much paternity had to do with the amont of time spent with beetle offspring; younger beetles who mated with a female burying beetle in an area that smelled of other males were less sure of the offspring's lineage, and as such, were more ambivalent to their young. Older males continued to look after their young -- doing things like feeding their begging "kids" -- even when they weren't sure they were the father.

"If their chances of reproducing again were high, we found that males had to make a trade-off between the likelihood of paternity and the level of paternal care they would give," Dr. Megan Head of the University of Exeter said in a press release. "We found that younger males who were uncertain of their paternity were likely to make the worst fathers."

"Our research ... may also be applicable to humans, since research across a wide range of species shows that males can and do adjust how much care they provide young in response to the likelihood of those young being their own," Head told the Huffington Post. "However, caution is always needed when extrapolating results across species.

"While humans and burying beetles do have a lot in common when it comes to parental care there are also many differences," she continued. "Humans have much stronger social bonds where young often stick around to help raise siblings, whereas in burying beetles, young disperse as soon as they can fend for themselves. These are just some of the things that are likely to contribute to the costs and benefits of males caring for young and thus whether and how paternal care evolves."

That being said, we couldn't help but notice the same phenomenon in the insect world has been observed among humans as well -- particularly that older males made better dads.

A Time article earlier this year noted that older dads are less likely to get angry and fly off the handle, thanks to a 1 percent decrease in testosterone rates. Older dads are more likely to be financially stable than younger dads, and able to spend more time with their children as a result. Older dads who have children later could lenghten their children's lives: Aging men's sperm "develops DNA code that favors a longer life -- a trait he then passes to his children," the BBC reported last year.

However there are health concerns associated with older (human) fathers. Older fathers pass on more genetic mutations to their offspring than younger dads, which reportedly leads to more instances of schizophrenia and autism, numerous outlets reported last year. And older dads are more likely to have autistic grandchildren.

But just as Huffington Post blogger Len Filppu put it in his post "What Time's Article On Older Dad's Did Not Report":

"Later in life fatherhood is not for everyone, and it's becoming apparent there may be increased risks. But for the men and woman who choose or face this potentiality, there is rich treasure to be mined."

Interestingly enough, in beetles, the offspring's performance was about the same no matter what the age of the beetle father. That's because "when the father stopped pulling his weight, the mother took up the slack and provided the additional care necessary to produce successful offspring," according to the press release for the Exeter study.



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