A group of scientists has published a new study concluding that female animals frequently possess dull, ugly features compared to their dazzling, lovely-looking male counterparts as a way to fend off sexual harassment.
The females “signal their unattractiveness” for their own safety, the study suggests.
The novel theory is the brainchild of a trio of professors: David Hosken and Nina Wedell of the University of Exeter (in the United Kingdom) and Suzanne Alonzo of the University of California, Santa Cruz.
The professors suggest that sexual dimorphism — the often conspicuous differences between male and female members of various animal species — occurs because it is in the interest of females to avoid unwelcome sexual harassment.
Thus, for example, male peacocks have glorious, multihued plumage while female peahens have only a bit of color on their necks. The image in this story shows a male peacock fully fanning his ornamental plumage as he attempts to seduce a plain-Jane peahen.
Similarly, the heads of male deer are topped with huge antlers but the heads of female deer are not.
“We suggest that if female ornaments signaled their sexual quality, females could suffer increased sexual harassment by males and this could be especially costly to fitness,” the study authors said, according to the Daily Mail.
“If we accept the premise that males, while not as choosy as females, still exert some choice of mate then the question is why don’t females signal their sexual quality via ornamental sexual traits like males do?” Exeter professor Hosken said. “We suggest that if female ornaments signaled their sexual quality, females could suffer increased sexual harassment by males and this could be especially costly to fitness.”
“We are not suggesting that male harassment of attractive females is the only explanation for lack of sexual ornamentation in females but want to alert researchers to the idea that this could be a contributing factor,” Hosken added.
Previous studies have theorized that the drab appearance of members of many animal species is a function of the need of females for camouflage.
The study appeared earlier this week in “Animal Behaviour,” a journal of the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour — and “the journal of choice for biologists, ethologists, psychologists, physiologists, and veterinarians.”
Other current articles in “Animal Behaviour” include “Winner and Loser Effects in Flies of Both Sexes” and “Same-sex Sexual Behaviour in Flour Beetles.”