Animals may base contest decisions on their fighting ability alone (self-assessment) or also their opponents’ (mutual assessment). Many male stag beetles develop disproportionately enlarged mandibles and use them as weapons. Information on their assessment strategy is limited. To investigate their assessment strategy and whether they adopt the same strategy at different stages of contests, we used food to encourage male Cyclommatus mniszechi of different (random pairings) or similar (ML-matched pairings) mandible length (ML) to interact. For the random pairings, losers had shorter mandibles than winners and were faster to feed. Overall contest duration and the tendency to escalate to tussles associated positively with winners’ ML and average ML in the random and the ML-matched pairings, respectively, consistent with self-assessment. Non-tussle phase duration associated positively with average ML in the ML-matched pairings, consistent with self-assessment. Tussle phase duration, however, positively associated with losers’ ML in the random pairings and had no association with average ML in the ML-matched pairings, consistent with mutual assessment. These results show that (1) the males employ both assessment strategies, (2) winners have more control over contest intensity than losers, and (3) males with shorter mandibles are quicker to feed and also more likely to lose fights.
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