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Keywords:

  • lactation;
  • suckling;
  • agonistic behaviour;
  • fighting;
  • adaptive behaviour;
  • epiphenomenon

Abstract

Suckling by piglets and kittens is accompanied by intense fighting among littermates. There are strong arguments that support the fighting for teats as an epiphenomenon, such as there being a sufficient number of mammary glands (teats) that are of equal quality for littermates, as suggested by Hudson and Distel (Ethology, 119, 2013, 353). However, this article presents a possible adaptive explanation for fighting during suckling. To substantiate the adaptive function of suckling fights, the disposability and limitations of colostrum are first considered. Other aspects are also discussed, such as the potential role of social thermoregulation, the stimulation of mammary glands (massage) and milk composition. Adaptive explanations for the absence/presence and intensity of suckling fights across species consider differences in the colostrum and mature milk composition, mechanisms of transferring immunoglobulin that supply passive immunity to neonates, strategies used to compete for teats and litter size. However, agonistic behaviours in the context of suckling should not be simply categorised as an epiphenomenon.