Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

It's Only Guppy Love Mu Scientist Uncovers Fishy Courting Secrets

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

It's Only Guppy Love Mu Scientist Uncovers Fishy Courting Secrets

Article excerpt

What do women find most attractive in a man?

His body? His personality? His after shave?

If guppy love is any clue, a woman chooses a man because she sees that other women want him, too.

Lee Dugatkin, a biologist at the University of Missouri at Columbia, has found that female guppies don't choose a male just because he's a hunk. They prefer a male that another female already has picked as a mate.

"If a particular behavior is common among animals, it often turns out that we find it in humans as well - and vice versa," Dugatkin said in a telephone interview Thursday.

Dugatkin has studied the social behavior of tropical guppies - particularly how they choose mates. It's part of a larger effort to understand the roots of behavior, including human behavior.

Among his other recent findings:

Choosing another female's mate, or "mate-copying," is such a powerful effect in guppies that a female will often change her original choice of a mate if she sees another female choose another male.

Male guppies try to hang around dumpy-looking males - in the guppy world, those are the fish with less orange. Looking good compared with his buddies increases the chances that a male will be preferred as mate by a roving female.

As fishy as this sounds, Dugatkin's results are important to humans because they challenge the reigning idea that mate choice in animals is based solely on genetically determined physical factors. Previously, animal behavior experts thought males won mates by defeating competitors in combat or showing more color in ritualistic displays.

But the power of cultural factors must be considered when trying to understand how mate selection evolved, Dugatkin said. These factors play a major role in determining what animals find attractive and how they go about making themselves desirable to others.

"We've always underestimated what animals can do," Dugatkin said. "The bottom line is that they're doing something much more subtle, requiring them to have more cognitive abilities than we expected."

Sex, Fish and Videotape

Dugatkin, who joined the MU faculty in July, recently won the Outstanding New Investigator Award from the Animal Behavior Society for his research. …

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