Once thought to be the magical horn of a unicorn, narwhal tusks are one of the most charismatic structures in biology. Despite years of speculation, little is known about the tusk's function, because narwhals spend most of their lives hidden unearth the Arctic ice. Some hypotheses propose that the tusk has sexual functions as a weapon or as a signal. By contrast, other hypotheses propose that the tusk functions as an environmental sensor. Since assessing the tusks function in nature is difficult, we can use the morphological relationships of tusk size with body size to understand this mysterious trait. To do so, we collected morphology data on 245 adult male narwhals over the course of 35 years. Based on the disproportional growth and large variation in tusk length we found, we provide the best evidence to date that narwhal tusks are indeed sexually selected. By combining our results on tusk scaling with known material properties of the tusk, we suggest that the narwhal tusk is a sexually selected signal that is used during male–male contests.
|Date made available||Mar 1 2020|
|Publisher||figshare Academic Research System|