Magazine article Science News

Eyespot Deficits Stymie Peacocks: Females Appear to Require a Minimum Number of Flecks

Magazine article Science News

Eyespot Deficits Stymie Peacocks: Females Appear to Require a Minimum Number of Flecks

Article excerpt

The tale of how the peacock got his eyespots has taken a new turn.

His shimmering train of feathers tipped with eye-shaped spots ranks among the most cited examples of what Darwin called sexual selection. In this singles bar approach to evolution, flashy plumage and other ornaments arise not because they enhance survival of the fittest but because they favor reproduction of the sexiest.

Basic principles aren't in doubt for the peacock exemplar. Yet "everybody uses it without knowing much about how it works," says Roslyn Dakin of Queen's University in Kingston, Canada.

She found that a train with especially high numbers of eyespots did not seem to improve a male's chances of dazzling a female into mating- but having too few spots was definitely a hindrance. That flies in the face of classic experiments on peacock courtship, Dakin and Robert Montgomerie, also of Queen's, acknowledge in an upcoming Animal Behaviour. But they also report additional work suggesting a new explanation for why peahens sometimes don't appear to care about eyespot number.

Eyespots seemed a good predictor of a male's chances of success in past studies of peafowl in England. A female cruising among males routinely picked the one who showed her the most eyespots, says pioneer of peacock science Marion Petrie of Newcastle University in England. …

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