The role of color in animal courtship uncovered

December 15, 2010 By Denise Cullen
Parotia lawesii. Image: Wikipedia

Researchers at UQ's Queensland Brain Institute are one step closer to unlocking the role of color in animal courtship rituals after identifying a unique feather structure in birds of paradise.

The New Guinea-based birds of paradise have long been famed for their elaborate forest floor dances.

With their feathers producing dazzling iridescent and metallic effects as they catch the light, these courtship dances are designed to showcase the birds' brilliant plumage to prospective mates.

Now scientists within QBI's Sensory Neurobiology Group have uncovered exactly why the dance moves of one kind of bird of paradise – the male Lawes' parotia – create even larger and more abrupt changes than is possible with “ordinary” iridescent plumage such as that possessed by peacocks.

Researcher Professor Justin Marshall said that the novel effect was due to the unique structure of the parotia's , which function like multi-layered reflective mirrors.

“The feather 'barbules' have a special boomerang-shaped profile that allows them to produce not the usual one but three colored mirrors,” he said.

“These reflect yellow and blue light in different directions to make dramatic color changes as the bird displays on the .”

The research, to feature in the latest edition of the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, provides insight into the evolution and function of color and color vision in the avian world.

Further research is needed to establish exactly what information these dramatic displays provide to female birds of paradise, but it seems certain that hue changes play a crucial role when it comes to how to choose a mate.

Though colour is not quite so important in human courtship rituals, comparative neurobiology suggests that snappy dressers and dancers are still more likely to succeed in the reproductive stakes.

“The take-home message for men is to wear the Armani suit rather than your Stubbies and thongs,” Professor Marshall said.

Explore further: Humidity changes color of birds' feathers, biologists discover

Related Stories

Birds of a feather may not always flock together

November 12, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- DNA mutation rates are the deciding factor in the battle of the birds, which sees songbird species disproportionately outnumbering other bird orders, according to research from The Australian National University.

Plumage-color traits more extreme over time

May 3, 2010

Ever since Darwin, researchers have tried to explain the enormous diversity of plumage colour traits in birds. Now researchers at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, are adding something new to this particular field of ...

Recommended for you

Cow gene study shows why most clones fail

December 9, 2016

It has been 20 years since Dolly the sheep was successfully cloned in Scotland, but cloning mammals remains a challenge. A new study by researchers from the U.S. and France of gene expression in developing clones now shows ...

Blueprint for shape in ancient land plants

December 9, 2016

Scientists from the Universities of Bristol and Cambridge have unlocked the secrets of shape in the most ancient of land plants using time-lapse imaging, growth analysis and computer modelling.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.