Sexual dimorphism in ritualized agonistic behaviour, fighting ability and contest costs of Sus scrofa

Irene Camerlink, M Farish, Gareth Arnott*, SP Turner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
54 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Sexual selection has driven sexual dimorphism in agonistic behaviour in many species. Agonistic behaviour is fundamentally altered by domestication and captivity, but it is unclear whether ancestral sex differences remain. We aimed to evaluate the effect of sex on agonistic behaviour, fighting ability and contest costs. We studied this in domestic pigs (Sus scrofa) where aggression compromises welfare, and sexual dimorphism in aggression has been inconclusively demonstrated. Behaviour and physiology of 827 male and female juvenile pigs were studied during resident-intruder tests and dyadic contests at various ages, while accounting for the relative body weight difference between the opponents. Results: Males won in 79% of contests against females, even when at a large weight disadvantage. The effect of sex increased with age, with males having a 138 times higher likelihood of winning than females when 13 weeks old. In dyadic contests, males invested more time in non-damaging agonistic display behaviour and took longer before escalating into damaging aggression. Males showed ritualized display that included foaming from the mouth and piloerection of the neck hair, which was nearly always absent in females. Contest costs in terms of contest duration, blood lactate and skin lesions where higher for males, especially when fighting another male. Conclusions: Profound sex differences were present for agonistic behaviour, fighting ability and contest costs, and became more pronounced as animals got older. Males invested more in ritualized display before escalating into costly fights, whereas females attacked sooner but also terminated contests more rapidly and with fewer costs. The sexual dimorphism in agonistic behaviour in juvenile domestic pigs is in line with the evolutionary relevance for females’ maternal defence and males’ competition for females.

Original languageEnglish
Article number13
JournalFrontiers in Zoology
Issue number1
Early online date12 Mar 2022
Publication statusFirst published - 12 Mar 2022


  • Aggression
  • Animal contest
  • Behaviour
  • Contest costs
  • Fighting ability
  • Ritualized display
  • Sex differences
  • Sexual dimorphism
  • Sus scrofa


Dive into the research topics of 'Sexual dimorphism in ritualized agonistic behaviour, fighting ability and contest costs of Sus scrofa'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this