Animals make behavioral choices every day. But how do they prioritize one need over another—especially when those choices are both necessary for survival and reproduction? Researchers at the University of Birmingham used Drosophila melanogaster to study this behavioral conflict.
In the study, male flies were kept away from both food and females, and then offered a choice of both. The team discovered that mating was consistently overridden by hunger in flies that were starved, with the behavioral tipping point occurring after about 15 hours of starvation. Once fed, the researchers found the male flies turned their attention to courtship—sometimes within just a few seconds.
“The neurons that tell the fly to go and eat, or to go and mate, are essentially competing with each other,” explained [researcher Carolina] Rezaval. “If the need to eat is most urgent, the feeding neurons will take over, if the threat of starvation is less, then the urge to reproduce will win.”