Females choose sexier friends to avoid harassment

December 7, 2011
Two male guppies harrass a female. Image: Dr Darren Croft, University of Exeter.

(PhysOrg.com) -- Scientists have observed a strategy for females to avoid unwanted male attention: choosing more attractive friends. Published today (7 December) in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the study is the first to show females spending time with those more sexually attractive than themselves to reduce harassment from males.

Carried out by the Universities of Exeter and Copenhagen, the study focuses on the Trinidadian guppy, a species of small . It shows that the females choose companions that are relatively more attractive than themselves and in this way reduce harassment from males. The research shows that the tactic is successful and by ensuring they are less attractive than other , the fish experience less harassment and fewer mating attempts from males.

Male guppies are well known for frequent and sometimes constant of females. This puts a significant burden on females, sometimes preventing them finding food and escaping from predators.

Females are 'receptive' for a few days in each month. During this time they emit a sexual that attracts males and allow males to glide into a position that facilitates mating.

The researchers used guppies descended from those living in the Aripo River in Trinidad. They identified which females were currently receptive to male sexual attention and which were not. They then monitored the amount of time both receptive and non-receptive females chose to spend with either receptive or non-receptive females.

They found that non-receptive females spent significantly more time with receptive, and therefore more sexually attractive, females and that, by doing so, they received far less attention from males. In fact, they even chose water in which receptive females had recently swum over water that had housed other non-receptive fish. This shows they picked up on emitted by receptive females and found this to create a more appealing .

Lead researcher Dr Safi Darden of the University of Exeter said: "It is now becoming apparent that males of some species choose to associate with relatively less attractive males to increase their chances of mating. We wanted to see if females also chose their same-sex companions based on attractiveness, but in this case, to reduce unwanted attention."

"Our results support the idea that social structure can develop around relative attractiveness and mating strategies. Although we focused our study on one species of fish, I would expect that this strategy would be seen in other species where females face similar levels of unwanted sexual attention from males."

Explore further: Female Guppies Risk Their Lives To Avoid Too Much Male Attention

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5 / 5 (1) Dec 07, 2011
Unfortunately they did not study Trinidadian guppies but Trinidadian guppies in the peculiar environment of research tanks so it is not clear whether their companion selecting behavior reflects behavior that is natural to Trinidadian guppies or is an artifact of the environment created by their researchers. There is a "Heisenberg uncertainty principle" in animal research whereby to study animal behavior requires creating such unnatural conditions that great uncertainty is produced as to whether what is observed actually reflects natural behavior.
1 / 5 (1) Dec 07, 2011
I believe this type of association is known as a Nash equilibrium.
3 / 5 (6) Dec 07, 2011
"Females choose sexier friends to avoid harassment"

Imagine my disappointment when I realized this article was about fish.
5 / 5 (4) Dec 07, 2011
Any fish with an elementary knowledge of game theory knows,
You ignore the most attractive fish and talk to the ugly fish. You even toss mild insults at the most attractive fish. Then the attractive fish, so use to being the the center of attention, is practically begging for your interest. Bing Bang Bong. These guppies have it all backwards.
5 / 5 (2) Dec 07, 2011
This thing throws the whole DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend) out the window.

Also, I wouldn't trust any sexual research from a scientist who finds female guppies sexy.
3 / 5 (2) Dec 07, 2011
DARN! You guys used up all the juicy comments already...dag-nabbit!


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