Game theory is more often applied to the puzzles of arms control and economic planning, but its tenets can also explain the behavior of an animal like Navanax.
Consider the options faced by a typical Navanax just after it has successfully mated--at the moment, that is, when it is expected to change roles and begin another round.
Yet when one Navanax creeps up behind another and initiates sex, both slugs soon face a decision that’s almost never addressed by grander, fancier brains: when to be male and when to be female.
Navanax, you see, is a hermaphrodite: like many other species in 9 out of the 16 animal phyla, it has the anatomy and the ability to be either male or female.
Befitting stereotypes about life in southern California, she says, Navanax doesn’t seem to have much else on what could loosely be termed its mind.
In fact, Navanax and its fellow sea slugs have become a favorite of neurobiological researchers precisely because a slug’s brain and behavior are a lot easier to map than, say, a cat’s or a mouse’s.
The police don’t have enough evidence to convict you on the most serious charge, so they try to strike a deal.
Each of you, while in solitary confinement, is told that if you’ll testify against the other, you’ll receive no jail sentence but your partner will get the maximum.Navanax inermis--a rat-size, yellow-dotted brown-and-blue sea slug--is a bit odd even by the laid-back standards of its native California.It crawls around mud flats on a single foot, from which extends a round flap of sensitive skin.She was initially interested in watching her slugs play sex games.Indeed, Leonard has been peeping in on and videotaping Navanax sex (usually in marathon all-night sessions) for more than a decade now. Every Navanax comes equipped with a penis on the right side of its head; a few inches behind is a genital slit that leads to an ovary.At that moment it enters into perhaps the best-known situation in game theory: the Prisoner’s Dilemma.