A representation of male fairies that seems to be misleading

Excellent fairy wren up close

The researchers found that all men’s premium fairy coats produced and maintained bright colors, regardless of their ‘natural quality’. Credit: Alex McQueen

In many animals, the propensity of females to males of the most complicated appearance is an important factor in the evolution of bright and dramatic colors.

Women are thought to prefer vibrant males because only ‘high-quality’ men – those with the most resources, top-notch eating skills or social status – can create and maintain the most vibrant colors.

By choosing these high quality males, females can provide a good father or good genes for their offspring.

But do the men that women prefer invest more in their looks?

New research by ornithologists from Monash University suggests, not necessarily.

Superb Fairy Wren

Every year, men’s top fairy robes change color, melting from brown barren feathers to ultraviolet blue and black feathers.

Led by a doctorate, dr. Alex McQueen, of the Monash University School of Biological Sciences, a study published in Behavioral ecology examined whether the visible colors of excellent fairy necklaces signal masculine quality.

“We examined whether only the highest quality men with excellent resources can produce the most vivid colors and whether only the highest quality men can keep their colors intact,” Alex said. “We also tested that in an experiment, giving testosterone to some men, which is why they produced breeding colors in the winter.”

“Surprisingly, we discovered that all men’s top fairy coats produced and maintained vibrant colors, regardless of their” natural quality “. Also, males who had to produce breeding colors in challenging winter conditions showed vivid colors that were no different from other males, ”she said.

Every year, men’s excellent fairy robes change color by melting from brown barren feathers to ultraviolet blue and black feathers.

While in their breeding feathers, males flaunt their colors to females by performing complex sexual representations.

“We predicted that color maintenance would be particularly important for this species for two reasons: first, males to whom females prefer to produce their feathers for breeding earlier than all other males, many months before breeding, which means that these early males show their colors for cultivation no longer than each year; and secondly, ultraviolet blue feathers have been shown to fade easily in other birds over time, ”Alex said.

The research team measured the colors of the same, wild male fairies several times a year.

And they recorded how much time men spent cleaning when they were in their brown barren feathers and colorful tribal feathers.

“We were very surprised to find that male breeding colors don’t fade with time,” Alex said.

“Despite keeping their colors intact, the males did not spend more time on breeding while breeding feathers,” she said. The research team found that males instead “retouched” their breeding colors by replacing several blue feathers at once throughout the breeding season.

“Our study shows that the bright colors of breeding male superior fairy probabilities are unlikely to signal male quality to females,” Alex said. “We also found that males carefully maintain the colors of their feathers in excellent condition for sexual display.”

Reference: December 22, 2020, Behavioral ecology.