Biologists state that the driving force behind evolution can simply be summarised as four forces: fight, flight, feed and mate (“fuck”). These are known as the Four Fs. Evolution is described as the process by which species adapt to an environment through modifications in the genomes of successive generations. The Four Fs describe the adaptations most commonly seen in evolution; that is, the four things that species evolve in order to better adapt and survive their environment. For example, carnivores developed sharp teeth and claws to hunt better and herbivores developed faster legs to flee from their predators better. Nature is a vicious battleground where different species compete with each other for survival, and the Four Fs are the most powerful weapons of survival.
As much as we’d like to think that we are higher-order, civilised beings, human beings are still driven by the basic four forces that drive every other species in the world. Obviously, our bodies are well-adapted to these forces, such as our fight-or-flight drive activating in the face of danger to let us fight harder or run faster through adrenaline. Anyone can see that nature has done her job well by bestowing us the gift of satiety and orgasm to promote our feeding and mating. But what is interesting that the Four Fs go beyond our “natural evolution” to affect the evolution of our civilisation.
Consider this: what is the purpose of war? Since the dawn of time, mankind has spent a considerable amount of resources figuring how to most efficiently kill another group of people, or live in fear that other people will kill us. If we study the behaviour of chimpanzees (one of the few species other than us that wage warfare), we can see that their motivation is for food and sex (i.e. mating partners). This also applies to mankind and it is not a story of ancient times. It is well-known that raping and pillaging runs rampant during wars. Less than 800 years ago, a man named Genghis Khan was so successful in waging war that DNA evidence suggests that 0.5% of the world population are descended from him. Even in the present, countries wage war to secure natural resources to ensure that their people can eat, as the health of the economy directly correlates with the ability of people to put food on their plates. Almost every war essentially boils down to a fight for food.
Then what about sex? Like it or not, sex has been a tremendously influential force in history. From Cleopatra’s seduction of Caesar preventing Rome’s invasion of Egypt, to Henry VIII turning against the Catholic Church to marry Anne Boleyn, sex has been a timeless motivator for humanity. Although the consequences would not be as dramatic as those described, a significant proportion of our actions are also based on our primal desire to reproduce.
Of course, this is not always the truth and human beings are capable of acting on less wild motivators such as happiness and altruism. However, the next time you make a decision or see a conflict on the news, question this: how much of an impact did food and sex have to motivate that?
Female horses (mares) exhibit a very strange behaviour after they mate with a male. A mare will mate with every other male in the stable, almost immediately after mating with the first one. This strange post-coital promiscuity does not appear to make any sense from an evolutionary perspective, as one would think that pregnancy would lead to a decrease in libido so the mother can focus on caring for her embryo. However, this promiscuity is part of a strategy that helps protect the baby horses.
It is common behaviour in the animal kingdom for a male to kill a female’s young so that he can mate with her and produce babies with his own genetic material. This also happens in horses, where stallions engage in infanticide, kicking a foal to death if it is not his. For a mother horse, this is not only heartbreaking, but also a tremendous waste of the energy she put into pregnancy. So to protect her offspring and conserve energy, she ensures that no male knows who the father of her baby is. It has been shown that males who mated with a female who gave birth will not attack the foal, as there is a chance that it is his. Thus, a mother horse guarantees the protection of her child by prostituting herself to all of the males around.
Although the story of a mother willing to sacrifice everything, even her dignity, for the safety of her offspring may be inspiring, it has also been observed that if a mare cannot mate with all of the males in the stable, she will instead abort the pregnancy. For example, if a new horse is brought into the herd after the mare becomes pregnant, the mare senses the danger to her eventual foal and proceeds to abort it. In a study involving zebras, it was found that bringing in a new male made the foal’s chances of survival fall to less than 5 percent.
Rock-paper-scissors is a fun game that is played by people of all ages and nationalities. But there is also a species of lizards that plays this game, albeit in a rather strange way.
Male common side-blotched lizards, also known as Uta stansburiana, have a mating strategy based on the game, where the chances of “winning” is equal and one type has an advantage over another type while being disadvantaged against another type. The males come in three types, differing in the colour of their necks: orange, blue and yellow.
- Orange-throated males are the strongest but do not like to form a bond with the female (i.e. do not want a relationship). They can easily win over a fight against the blue-throated males to win the female, but yellow-throated males can sneak in and win over the female instead. Orange beats blue but loses against yellow.
- Blue-throated males are middle-sized but do form strong bonds with females. They lose in a fight against orange-throated males, but can easily defend against yellow-throated males as they are always with their female. Blue beats yellow but loses against orange.
- Yellow-throated males are smallest but can mimic females, letting them approach females near orange-throated males. They mate with the females while the orange-throated male is distracted, but this strategy does not work with blue-throated males as they have stronger bonds with the females. Yellow beats orange but loses against blue.
Interestingly, although the proportion of the three types average out to be similar over the long run (much like the probability of a person playing a certain hand), in the short term the preferred strategy tends to fluctuate. For example, orange-throated males may strive with their masculine strength for four or five years, but then the trend will slowly switch to yellow-throated males and their mimicking, female-stealing strategy. After another four or five years, blue-throated males will make a comeback as they win over females with their strong bonding.