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When I was in high school in the late 1960s in small-town Tennessee, there was an interesting ritual that occurred on weekend nights especially in the spring and summer. Some of the teenage boys had some mighty fine souped-up automobiles -- 1957 Chevrolets, GTOs, Cherry red Mustangs -- and, if your daddy was rich, a Corvette Stingray. The teens would drive these cars back and forth between McDonalds and Shoneys. They would circle slowly in the parking lot and then drive two miles to the other burger joint and circle that one. Convertibles were best. Rock 'n' roll music with a cigarette dangling from the mouth completed the James Dean look. This activity would last from 9:00pm to closing time at 1:00am.

Little did I know at the time I was witnessing a lek. A lek is a Swedish word that means 'play.' This is a term used for a certain kind of breeding system. Leks usually refer to birds; but also some mammals and even fish have similar behaviors. Basically a lek is when all the males in an area gather together and display. The females are attracted to this group activity and decide which one of the fellows she will have sex with.

Found in the high country east of the Sierra Nevada is a well known lekking species -- the sage grouse. They gather in exactly the same location year after year after year. The male puffs up his chest, makes a soft drumming sound and struts around with his tail feathers high. Females choose the good-looking ones.

One local mammal which uses leks is the fallow deer, which is easily seen in the Olema Valley near the Pt. Reyes National Seashore. During the fall, three to five bucks gather in leks. These non-native deer use their hooves and antlers to destroy all the vegetation in an area and dig out large rutting pits into the ground. The resulting erosion is environmentally destructive, but it seems to get the job done. There are too many fallow deer.

Unfortunately for the teenage me, I had to drive a Volvo sedan. This was definitely not an alpha male car, but I did managed to compensate by shaking a pretty good tail feather on the dance floor. And that helped with the girls.


This is Michael Ellis, with a Perspective.