Ugly Betty forced to aim for Average Joe

Aug 26, 2010
This is a sparrow. Credit: 'Griggio et al., BMC Evolutionary Biology'

Less-pretty female house sparrows tend to lower their aim when selecting a mate. Addressing the lack of studies on condition-dependency of female mate choice, researchers writing in the open access journal BMC Evolutionary Biology found that female sparrows of a low quality prefer males of an equally low quality.

Researchers from the Konrad Lorenz Institute for Ethology in Vienna studied preferences in the common house sparrow. Though it has always been assumed that females will want to choose the best possible mate, in terms of reproductive and genetic fitness, Matteo Griggio and Herbert Hoi have found that, in fact, unattractive females dare not dream of mating with males who are considered out of their league.

In sparrow terms, males who have a large patch of dark-colored feathers on the chest - the "bib" or "badge" - are considered the most attractive. The bigger the badge, the more likely the male is to have the best territory in which to rear offspring, so if females were to believe that size matters, the big-badged males should be irresistible. In order to investigate female preference, the research team randomly divided ninety-six male house sparrows in to two groups - those with an artificially enlarged black throat patch and those with an average patch. By observing the behavior of 85 different females it was possible to define a 'preferred male' as the male with whom the female spent most of her time.

"Actually, we found that overall, female sparrows don't have a preference for badge size in males", Griggio explains, "but we did find that less attractive females - those with a low weight and poor condition - have a clear preference for less attractive males with smaller or average-sized badges". Rather than not find a partner, unattractive females will simply settle for an unattractive male.

Griggio continues: "There is some good news for the plainer females though - while they may be forced to settle for less with small chest badges, these males have been shown to invest more time in parental care than their good-looking counterparts."

Explore further: Contrasting views of kin selection assessed

More information: Only females in poor condition display a clear preference and prefer males with an average badge, Matteo Griggio and Herbert Hoi, BMC Evolutionary Biology (in press), www.biomedcentral.com/bmcevolbiol/

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

For fish, bigger doesn’t always mean healthier

Nov 17, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Female smallmouth bass tend to prefer bigger male mates, but bigger doesn’t necessarily mean healthier. That’s the finding of a new study in the latest issue of Physiological and Biochemical Zoology that i ...

Choosy females make colourful males

May 09, 2006

Female fish prefer brightly coloured males because they are easier to see and are in better shape concludes Dutch researcher Martine Maan following her study of fish speciation in the East African Lakes. Environmental variation ...

Females avoid incest by causing male relatives to leave home

Aug 15, 2007

Researchers at the University of Sheffield in the UK and Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) in Berlin, Germany, have found that female hyenas avoid inbreeding with their male relatives by giving them little ...

The best both of worlds -- how to have sex and survive

Sep 20, 2007

Researchers have discovered that even the gruesome and brutal lifestyle of the Evarcha culicivora, a blood gorging jumping spider indigenous to East Africa, can’t help but be tempted by that ‘big is beautiful’ mantra ...

Recommended for you

Contrasting views of kin selection assessed

Dec 17, 2014

In an article to be published in the January issue of BioScience, two philosophers tackle one of the most divisive arguments in modern biology: the value of the theory of "kin selection."

Microbiome may have shaped early human populations

Dec 16, 2014

We humans have an exceptional age structure compared to other animals: Our children remain dependent on their parents for an unusually long period and our elderly live an extremely long time after they have ...

DNA sheds light on why largest lemurs disappeared

Dec 16, 2014

Ancient DNA extracted from the bones and teeth of giant lemurs that lived thousands of years ago in Madagascar may help explain why the giant lemurs went extinct. It also explains what factors make some surviving ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Journey
not rated yet Aug 30, 2010
Guess it just goes to show how smart the female sparrows are. When in "poorer condition", always go for the males that are willing to put more effort into looking after your young.
Skeptic_Heretic
not rated yet Aug 30, 2010
How exactly did they artificially enhance the badge on the males? Their method could have resulted in skewed results dependant on what materials were used to create the illusion.

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.