Humans aren’t the only members of the animal kingdom that work hard to impress and attract a mate. Often, guys battle it out in front of a desirable girl – hissing, flapping, ramming each other with horns. When the competition is over, the girl either accepts or rejects the boy.
In this episode of Sciworks Radio, Shawn Fitzmaurice spoke with Dr.Matthew Fuxjager, Assistant Professor of Physiology in the Department of Biology at Wake Forest University about how evolution has produced such strange mating rituals.
Hear the broadcast version in this player.
Dr. Fuxjager specializes in studying this behavior in manikins, a tropical bird consisting of about sixty different species with a wide variety of elaborate mating displays. These displays go beyond demonstrating useful survival behaviors. These displays serve two purposes: attracting a mate and fighting with other males. They all come together and display, then a female will choose a mate based on his performance. If there are no females in these large groups, the males will display to each other.
Natural selection is about adapting to one’s environment over multiple generations. This piece focuses on another evolutionary force known as sexual selection – where the lineage of a species is driven by what individuals find attractive. For example – if beautiful purple feathers are found to be attractive, then that trait is more likely to be passed down through following generations.
But what do mating rituals have to do with this? And why is it often males working to impress females?
One theory is that animals’ neuromuscular systems are being shaped in a way that corresponds to hormones that control sex and reproduction. Specifically, testosterone seems to lead to these displays. With the increase in testosterone, muscles grow in strength and flexibility and showing these features corresponds to being a potentially superior suitor. In fact, when testosterone was given to females in labs, THEY began to move like males during courtship.
While birds are the specific model in this case, these elaborate displays can be seen throughout many different animal species.
First aired October 4th, 2014