Lots of good news for beta males today: they can become like alphas at the drop of a hat, at least if they're cichlid fish. But if they're baboons, they may not want to — turns out being the alpha baboon is actually really stressful.
According to a study out of Stanford, scientists used to think beta cichlids were doomed to a life of celibacy. They suffer from "drastically lowered hormone levels, severely shrunken testes, and a noticeable (and perhaps understandable) pallor." Sad! But never fear, little betas, your time will come — if the alpha gets offed, that is. When that happens, the next fish in the pecking order starts to act like an alph right away, his little fish-balls start working, and he's back at peak sperm production within a day. Go beta go!
Cichlids may want to jump at the chance to sport pretty colors and spread their seed. But for baboons, the benefits of alpha-hood aren't so clear-cut. The Times reports on a new study showing that alpha male baboons have very high stress levels, just as high as the omega males at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Betas, meanwhile, are way more chill, and though they don't get as many ladies as the alphas, they do still get laid from time to time.
Neurobiologist Robert Sapolsky cautions against drawing too many connections between baboon and human behavior, because humans operate within not one social hierarchy, but many. Still, alpha-hood seems like it would be pretty stressful for human males too. Maintaining one's position at the top of any ladder is tricky business, and the stereotype of the alpha man is pretty restrictive: you're not supposed to show fear or weakness or even, most of the time, love. So while most human dudes don't have to deal with dominance-building butt-rituals, they still might want to consider kicking back and settling for beta.