Females Prefer Nests with Pizzazz. (Fish That Decorate)

By Milius, S. | Science News, March 15, 2003 | Go to article overview

Females Prefer Nests with Pizzazz. (Fish That Decorate)


Milius, S., Science News


Biology has met home-decorating TV.

In spring, some male fish build nests of algae where females visit and occasionally deposit eggs. In the wild, a nest's murky mass looks to human eyes as if it would be perfect for camouflaging the eggs. Yet, when scientists offered some males bits of shiny foil, the fish went wild, taking home the bright strips and placing them around the entrance to the nests. Even though the strips hardly looked like camouflage, the fish were making a canny decorating choice, researchers report in the March Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. In tests, females preferred the gaudy nests.

It's the first modern, controlled test showing that nest decor matters when female fish pick their mates, says coauthor Sara Ostlund-Nilsson of the University of Oslo in Norway.

Three-spined sticklebacks (Gasterosteous aculeatus) live in temperate waters worldwide and build nests with varied architecture. On the Swedish coast, Ostlund-Nilsson and Mikael Holmlund of Stockholm saw males tending nests of greenish algae that often had around the entrance several strands of red algae or of dead algae that had turned orange. The researchers had planned to study camouflage but became interested in learning why males incorporate bright accent colors if given the chance.

By cutting up the shiny foil from a Christmas candy, the researchers created 15-millimeter-long strips. When male sticklebacks in aquariums were ready to build nests, the researchers offered them foil in five colors as well as a choice of sequins.

The sequins weren't of much interest to the fish, but the nest builders added plenty of strips, especially red ones. …

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