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Thread: Why Peahens Find Peacocks So Sexy!

  1. #1 Why Peahens Find Peacocks So Sexy! 
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    In the beginning...peacocks had shorter tails but one mutant peacock had a slightly longer tail than the others. The peahens saw it was good (very sexy!) and they then mated with the mutant peacock and beget many offspring with longer tails and a longer-tail preference, since these were the genes passed on.

    Among the brood of the new generation there was a peacock with an even longer tail than his dear old dad and the peahens went wild! The preference for long tails grew and peacock tails grew from generation to generation--until predators found peacocks too easy to catch.

    The pendulum may have swung the other way for a time until an equilibrium was reached: a peacock's tail was long enough to attract the peahen babes and short enough to allow him to mate before becoming a tiger's lunch.

    I have always found the peacock's tail tale fascinating, but even more intriguing is the peahen's sexual preference for long tails. Why do peahens find longer tails sexier than shorter tails?

    Wouldn't it be better for the species if females preferred shorter tails? After all, peacocks with shorter tails could elude predators more easily and pass on that advantageous attribute to their peachicks.

    Here is my theory: peahens' sexual attraction to longer tails is actually a practical advantage!

    Consider what might happen if peahens preferred peacocks with short tails. Their predators might become extinct unless they became better hunters of the elusive short-tailed peacock or found alternative prey.

    If more peacocks manage to elude predators then the peafowl population might explode. They might then cause the extinction of some insects, reptiles, grains and other life they feed on. In turn, the peafowl themselves would starve and die.

    Therefore there is no real advantage in having peahens favor shorter tails. On the other hand, peahens favoring longer tails may have the effect of preventing an ecological disaster. Natural selection, in the case of the peafowl, may be doing what is best for life as a whole.


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  3. #2  
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    I think our peahen's baseline was the need to know a peacock from a horny turkey.

    Not really answering the problem, but note peacocks have been semi-protected pests since the dawn of agriculture. So we've kinda fostered them, as preferable to other pests. Who would harm such glorious foul? Does not explain the jungle quetzal though...


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    williampinn, what you're advocating is a form of group selection - wherein individuals accept a fitness cost in order to benefit the survival of the population as a whole. Group selection only happens under a very strict set of circumstances, and to date no conclusive examples of group selection have been found amongst animals.

    The preference of female peahens for certain traits can be caused by a number of things. The tail may actually be indicative of the male's health. If you are not a strong, well fed male, could you survive long with a tail, let alone a large, healthy, brilliantly colored one? Intensity of coloration has been shown to correlate with levels of testosterone (of which high levels require good nutrition to maintain) and low parasite load in many different bird species. Males able to maintain these flashy traits probably have some combination of good genes that allows them to do this better than other males.

    Some sexually selected traits can also result as a matter of chance, wherein a mutant male develops a trait that appeals to some hidden bias in the female sensory system. Now not only does this male attract females, but any sons the female has will also have this sexy, appealing trait - and increasing the reproductive success of her sons increases her own indirect reproductive success. The trait can be favored for that reason alone - this is called the sexy son theory, for obvious reasons.
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    Quote Originally Posted by paralith

    The preference of female peahens for certain traits can be caused by a number of things. The tail may actually be indicative of the male's health. If you are not a strong, well fed male, could you survive long with a tail, let alone a large, healthy, brilliantly colored one?
    I see your point, but a short-tailed male could be just as healthy and be able to dodge tigers to boot.
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    Quote Originally Posted by williampinn
    Quote Originally Posted by paralith

    The preference of female peahens for certain traits can be caused by a number of things. The tail may actually be indicative of the male's health. If you are not a strong, well fed male, could you survive long with a tail, let alone a large, healthy, brilliantly colored one?
    I see your point, but a short-tailed male could be just as healthy and be able to dodge tigers to boot.
    But: would females be able to tell the difference between a very healthy male and just an averagely healthy male if they all had relatively easy to maintain tails in terms of both color and size? Given a choice, females will go for the strongest male available to them. So, when mutant males arise with bigger, brighter tails, the females can use those tails as a reliable signal of male quality, and will prefer those males, and thus favor the development of the trait.

    If you're going to speak in terms of sexual selection, it is the desires of the females that you need to keep tantamount. What is best for them? Because the males will do whatever they can to procure the female's choice (in cases where mating cannot be forced), even if it means risking death by tiger. After all, if you die sooner than another male yet you mated with a total of 50 females in your lifetime and he only mated with 20 in his lifetime, who's the real reproductive winner?
    Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth.
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    [quote="paralith"][quote="williampinn"]
    Quote Originally Posted by paralith

    But: would females be able to tell the difference between a very healthy male and just an averagely healthy male if they all had relatively easy to maintain tails in terms of both color and size?
    On what do you base your assumption that peahens are looking for healthy males? Maybe they just dig long tails. If health or physical strength was the preference, then the peacocks would engage in combat--winner takes all the peahens. Many species do it that way.

    You could use the same logic with our species. Men with a full head of hair must be healthier than men who are bald, since the majority of females prefer the former. Yet the guy with a full head of hair may be a chain smoker and the bald guy might be a world class athlete.
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    Quote Originally Posted by williampinn
    Quote Originally Posted by paralith

    But: would females be able to tell the difference between a very healthy male and just an averagely healthy male if they all had relatively easy to maintain tails in terms of both color and size?
    On what do you base your assumption that peahens are looking for healthy males? Maybe they just dig long tails. If health or physical strength was the preference, then the peacocks would engage in combat--winner takes all the peahens. Many species do it that way.
    I'm basing it on previous data showing that brightly colored males tend to have higher levels of immunocompetence. A quick search brought up the example if this article providing experimental support for this pattern. Health does not only equal strength. Better immune systems that can fight off disease and parasite load are very important for birds, as they have chicks that spend a significant amount of time together in the same nest; these conditions are ideal for the attraction of parasites and the transmissions of these parasites and other diseases between the chicks. A father with greater immunocompetence will have chicks with the genes that will decrease their mortality due to these factors. And, in fact, a male who devotes more energy to testosterone and muscle is taking energy away from his immune system. Again, we're speaking in terms of sexual selection, and it's a matter of what it is important to the females. They want to see immunocompetence. They don't want to see a brawl. Even if the males did fight, there is no guarantee that the females would all willingly mate with the winner. This article uses a mathematical selection article to show that it is possible for the "good genes" genotype preference by females to result in extreme exaggeration of traits, as with the peacock's tail.

    You could use the same logic with our species. Men with a full head of hair must be healthier than men who are bald, since the majority of females prefer the former. Yet the guy with a full head of hair may be a chain smoker and the bald guy might be a world class athlete.
    That's assuming that all human women want is health. Health is important, but in social animals like humans, so is status and resources. Older males tend to be of higher status and also tend to have a larger resource base than very young males. In that sense a human female may in fact prefer a bald man.

    william, it is not advisable to make cross-species comparisons willy nilly. You have to consider the different contexts of the behavior, and if you are in fact comparing the same behavior. Peahens are extremely different animals than human females, with extremely different needs when it comes to reproduction. It would be better if you compared peahens with other species of birds, particularly other birds without male parental care. A female bird who is looking for a mate to feed her and her offspring will have different concerns than a female bird who just wants a healthy male, since he won't be sticking around to help.
    Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth.
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    We should not assume that we see what the peahen sees. Birds have four types of cones in their eyes, whereas mammals have only 3. This permits them to see into the ultraviolet. I have not seen a peacock tail photographed in UV, but from UV shots of other birds, I know that this type of vision shows details not available to our 3 cones.

    A peahen looks upon a peacock. If he looks strong and healthy, he carries good genes and is a fit mate. In ultraviolet, the signs of strength and health come through. Those signs are easier to see with a big tail. Once the peahen has evolved a desire to see bigger tails, then evolution goes into positive feed-back mode.

    It's a bit like the love of sweet things, like chocolate. We evolved that to make us seek out ripe fruit, to our obvious advantage. Evolution did not foresee chocolate, so put no brakes on this trend. Neither has evolution put brakes on the peahen love of big, healthy tails!
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    Quote Originally Posted by paralith
    Quote Originally Posted by williampinn
    Quote Originally Posted by paralith

    But: would females be able to tell the difference between a very healthy male and just an averagely healthy male if they all had relatively easy to maintain tails in terms of both color and size?
    On what do you base your assumption that peahens are looking for healthy males? Maybe they just dig long tails. If health or physical strength was the preference, then the peacocks would engage in combat--winner takes all the peahens. Many species do it that way.
    I'm basing it on previous data showing that brightly colored males tend to have higher levels of immunocompetence. A quick search brought up the example if this article providing experimental support for this pattern. Health does not only equal strength. Better immune systems that can fight off disease and parasite load are very important for birds, as they have chicks that spend a significant amount of time together in the same nest; these conditions are ideal for the attraction of parasites and the transmissions of these parasites and other diseases between the chicks. A father with greater immunocompetence will have chicks with the genes that will decrease their mortality due to these factors. And, in fact, a male who devotes more energy to testosterone and muscle is taking energy away from his immune system. Again, we're speaking in terms of sexual selection, and it's a matter of what it is important to the females. They want to see immunocompetence. They don't want to see a brawl.
    The article you cited only addresses color in male birds, not tail length. You are comparing an apple to an orange.

    Quote Originally Posted by paralith
    Even if the males did fight, there is no guarantee that the females would all willingly mate with the winner. This article uses a mathematical selection article to show that it is possible for the "good genes" genotype preference by females to result in extreme exaggeration of traits, as with the peacock's tail.
    This article you cited is based on a model rather than empirical data. The article also admits that the alleged correlation between tail length and gene quality is controversial. That makes sense. I don't see why a short-tail peacock has to be less healthy than a long-tail bird. It would be an interesting experiment to see if peahens prefer an male with brilliant feathers and a short tail--or a male with duller feathers and a long tail.
    Quote Originally Posted by paralith
    You could use the same logic with our species. Men with a full head of hair must be healthier than men who are bald, since the majority of females prefer the former. Yet the guy with a full head of hair may be a chain smoker and the bald guy might be a world class athlete.
    That's assuming that all human women want is health. Health is important, but in social animals like humans, so is status and resources. Older males tend to be of higher status and also tend to have a larger resource base than very young males. In that sense a human female may in fact prefer a bald man.

    william, it is not advisable to make cross-species comparisons willy nilly. You have to consider the different contexts of the behavior, and if you are in fact comparing the same behavior. Peahens are extremely different animals than human females, with extremely different needs when it comes to reproduction. It would be better if you compared peahens with other species of birds, particularly other birds without male parental care. A female bird who is looking for a mate to feed her and her offspring will have different concerns than a female bird who just wants a healthy male, since he won't be sticking around to help.
    Nothing willy nilly in pointing out an absurdity. A molecular analysis would probably show that the polygenes that cause color and tail length are not contingent upon the polygenes that cause immunocompetence any more than human hair or baldness are contingent upon a man's health.
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic
    We should not assume that we see what the peahen sees. Birds have four types of cones in their eyes, whereas mammals have only 3. This permits them to see into the ultraviolet. I have not seen a peacock tail photographed in UV, but from UV shots of other birds, I know that this type of vision shows details not available to our 3 cones.

    A peahen looks upon a peacock. If he looks strong and healthy, he carries good genes and is a fit mate. In ultraviolet, the signs of strength and health come through. Those signs are easier to see with a big tail. Once the peahen has evolved a desire to see bigger tails, then evolution goes into positive feed-back mode.

    It's a bit like the love of sweet things, like chocolate. We evolved that to make us seek out ripe fruit, to our obvious advantage. Evolution did not foresee chocolate, so put no brakes on this trend. Neither has evolution put brakes on the peahen love of big, healthy tails!
    How do you know the long-tail birds are healthier than the short-tail birds? What experiments were performed? My guess is that if you examined two birds with different tail lengths you could find a pair where the long-tail bird is less healthy overall than the short-tail bird. It is also my guess that the peahens will mate with the less healthy long-tail bird. I am assuming of course that genetic diversity exists among peafowl as it does with other species.
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    they know animals with full feathery tails are in better health and therefore more competative because producing said feathery tails in a manner that is most attractive to the female is energetically expensive, and actually somewhat detrimental to the survival of the animal. All previous arguements in this post so far aside, it really is a metabolic burden and reflects more the ability of the animal to survive, with the tail in full splendor, despite the burden. It also reflects the animals fitness for the previously made arguements about it making the peacock stand out completely.

    So we see two ways in which the peacocks with the more brilliant and lavish tails actually display an animal with overall solid health. If you still aren't convinced, go compare an animal with a large parasite load, malnourishment or some other detriment. You'll see a quite clear difference between the animal that is flourishing; that difference is the brilliant tail.
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    This is gonna sound offensive, but bear with it.

    Another selection that I think is going on, is that a more optimally dumbed-down female will fair better. Her ...dumb daughters... needn't pack the baggage of complicated sexual selection savoir faire (intelligence) if the mates are obvious to her. What I said about the peahen having to avoid horny turkeys. Now, just identifying a species may seem easy to us but for most animals it is not. They rely on bold cues. The males of many species can (and do) try to mate with just about anything. Notice peacocks spread their full pomp and loom quite lecherously toward petting zoo geese, who waddle away in terror. That's a bad strategy if unchecked. The male's species markings help to check the dope from wasting energy on other species. They reject his advances, while the peahen does not. And on her end, she enjoys the luxury of practically asexual singlemindedness only broken by a screaming display of colour in her face.

    Call it dumb daughter theory.

    I used to have an anole lizard and Siamese fighting fish in neighboring tanks. Both male. The fish dangled these crimson waddle things. The reptile boasted a red throat crest it could pump out. Sometimes they'd set each other off, territorially, and show colours while lunging at the glass. I could enrage either by wagging a couple of stylized pastel marks into view. So, if these meatheads couldn't even tell their own foes apart from a red smudge on paper, how on earth could they recognize a drab female of the same species? One good solution I can see is that she knows what she wants, and she's the only creature willing to mate.
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    Quote Originally Posted by williampinn
    The article you cited only addresses color in male birds, not tail length. You are comparing an apple to an orange.
    And what better way to show off your ability to maintain color than to have a larger sized tail which requires the creation of absolutely larger amounts of pigment? Ground birds can afford to maintain relatively larger tails than birds who depend more on flight.

    What I'm talking about is energy. It takes energy to maintain a healthy immune response, it takes energy to grow large structures, it takes energy to synthesize brightly colored pigments. If you are more healthy then generally speaking you have more energy to devote to these characteristics.

    This article you cited is based on a model rather than empirical data. The article also admits that the alleged correlation between tail length and gene quality is controversial. That makes sense. I don't see why a short-tail peacock has to be less healthy than a long-tail bird. It would be an interesting experiment to see if peahens prefer an male with brilliant feathers and a short tail--or a male with duller feathers and a long tail.
    Again, the difference isn't whether long tailed birds are necessarily healthier than short tailed birds. The difference is in giving females a way to determine which males are of higher quality than others. Consider a male with an excellent gene compliment that allows him to forage most efficiently and process nutrients more efficiently, allowing him to maintain them in high amounts. Another male is somewhat less efficient in all respects. But neither is experiencing any stress, and they are both by all accounts completely healthy. And, with short, easy to maintain tails, they look equal. Now, give them costly tails. That is where the difference begins to show. Now only those males in condition that is better than the minimum required for survival can maintain a tail so large and so bright. And, in times of resource scarcity or resource stress (such as a pathogen infection requiring energy to be devoted to the immune system), it is these males who will stand a better chance of survival. What mother wouldn't want those genes? And what mother wouldn't want a way to test whether or not those genes are present in a male?

    Nothing willy nilly in pointing out an absurdity. A molecular analysis would probably show that the polygenes that cause color and tail length are not contingent upon the polygenes that cause immunocompetence any more than human hair or baldness are contingent upon a man's health.
    william, do you know how costly it is to maintain human hair compared to maintaining a large tail filled with rich pigments? Let's consider a human trait that actually takes up a significant amount of calories and nutrients to maintain - muscle. Would you agree that a man who is suffering from disease would have less energy to invest in building up large muscle mass than a man who is completely healthy? Unless you can prove to me that human hair is difficult to maintain and that a male who is balding is doing so because he needs to put that energy to other uses, your comparison is still invalid.
    Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth.
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    Quote Originally Posted by mormoopid
    they know animals with full feathery tails are in better health and therefore more competative because producing said feathery tails in a manner that is most attractive to the female is energetically expensive, and actually somewhat detrimental to the survival of the animal. All previous arguements in this post so far aside, it really is a metabolic burden and reflects more the ability of the animal to survive, with the tail in full splendor, despite the burden. It also reflects the animals fitness for the previously made arguements about it making the peacock stand out completely.

    So we see two ways in which the peacocks with the more brilliant and lavish tails actually display an animal with overall solid health. If you still aren't convinced, go compare an animal with a large parasite load, malnourishment or some other detriment. You'll see a quite clear difference between the animal that is flourishing; that difference is the brilliant tail.
    How does the long tail prevent parasites? How does the long tail prevent malnourishment? I don't see why a short-tail bird would eat less or attract more parasites. A long tail is energetically expensive, but that fact does not necessarilly mean that the long-tail bird had more energy to start with than a short-tail bird. The short-tail bird, having expended less energy, would be healthier for that very reason. So back to the drawing board.
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    the tail is an indicator of health and has no impact on health, I don't know why you would even think or talk about the tail preventing parasites. Sexual selection really tends to be a selection favoring flamboyance, rather than practicallity. As such, in your example the female would be more attracted to the male that is obviously and flamboyantly successful, rather than just surviving.

    Since it's a sexual selection factor, males that are a success but aren't as flamboyant about it are less likely to mate. For example, if you have two human men of equal wealth but one has an attractive face and the other doesn't, it's pretty clear that all other things equal the more attractive man will be more successful finding a mate. It works the same way; females find it attractive. Sexual selection tends to have a runaway effect at times, the peacocks tail being a textbook example of this. You can see that your example of a physically fit male that isn't as sexually attractive wouldn't necessarily be less fit, but it would necessarily be more apparent to the females, especially when given a choice between the obvious and the slightly less obvious.

    You should do yourself a favor and look up some of the mechanics of sexual selection before just dismissing what people are saying here.
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    Quote Originally Posted by paralith
    Quote Originally Posted by williampinn
    The article you cited only addresses color in male birds, not tail length. You are comparing an apple to an orange.
    And what better way to show off your ability to maintain color than to have a larger sized tail which requires the creation of absolutely larger amounts of pigment? Ground birds can afford to maintain relatively larger tails than birds who depend more on flight.

    What I'm talking about is energy. It takes energy to maintain a healthy immune response, it takes energy to grow large structures, it takes energy to synthesize brightly colored pigments. If you are more healthy then generally speaking you have more energy to devote to these characteristics.
    If two birds with different tail lengths and about the same energy are compared, my guess is the short-tail bird will have more energy to devote to other attributes. The long-tail bird will have wasted a good deal of his energy on his frivolous tail and would be physically weak.



    Quote Originally Posted by paralith
    Again, the difference isn't whether long tailed birds are necessarily healthier than short tailed birds. The difference is in giving females a way to determine which males are of higher quality than others. Consider a male with an excellent gene compliment that allows him to forage most efficiently and process nutrients more efficiently, allowing him to maintain them in high amounts. Another male is somewhat less efficient in all respects. But neither is experiencing any stress, and they are both by all accounts completely healthy. And, with short, easy to maintain tails, they look equal. Now, give them costly tails. That is where the difference begins to show. Now only those males in condition that is better than the minimum required for survival can maintain a tail so large and so bright. And, in times of resource scarcity or resource stress (such as a pathogen infection requiring energy to be devoted to the immune system), it is these males who will stand a better chance of survival. What mother wouldn't want those genes? And what mother wouldn't want a way to test whether or not those genes are present in a male?
    But what if the sickly bird has the longer tail? My guess is the mother will mate with the bird with the longer tail. I think you are assuming that tail length = superior genes overall. Assuming that genetic diversity is a fact, then it is entirely possible that one male could have the longest tail and be a sickly bird and another could have a slightly shorter tail and be a healthy bird. The peahens will mate with the bird with the longest tail because that is their preference.

    Quote Originally Posted by paralith

    william, do you know how costly it is to maintain human hair compared to maintaining a large tail filled with rich pigments? Let's consider a human trait that actually takes up a significant amount of calories and nutrients to maintain - muscle. Would you agree that a man who is suffering from disease would have less energy to invest in building up large muscle mass than a man who is completely healthy? Unless you can prove to me that human hair is difficult to maintain and that a male who is balding is doing so because he needs to put that energy to other uses, your comparison is still invalid.
    Muscles are useful survival tools. Peacock tails are not. A better analogy would be a man buys a hot car to attract the babes. Another man buys an economy car. Which has the better genes? Either could have the best genes overall. However, you could make the erroneous assumption that the man who bought the sports car spent the most so he must have more wealth and he would not have aquired that wealth if he did not have superior health and so on.
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    I really really think that people need to read:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_selection


    This is the basic wikipedia guide to sexual selection. It's basic, it's not complete, but it should give you guys an idea about what I (and other posters who say similar things to me) am trying to explain to you guys by way of analogy, without the analogy. Please do read up!
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pong
    This is gonna sound offensive, but bear with it.

    Another selection that I think is going on, is that a more optimally dumbed-down female will fair better. Her ...dumb daughters... needn't pack the baggage of complicated sexual selection savoir faire (intelligence) if the mates are obvious to her. What I said about the peahen having to avoid horny turkeys. Now, just identifying a species may seem easy to us but for most animals it is not. They rely on bold cues. The males of many species can (and do) try to mate with just about anything. Notice peacocks spread their full pomp and loom quite lecherously toward petting zoo geese, who waddle away in terror. That's a bad strategy if unchecked. The male's species markings help to check the dope from wasting energy on other species. They reject his advances, while the peahen does not. And on her end, she enjoys the luxury of practically asexual singlemindedness only broken by a screaming display of colour in her face.

    Call it dumb daughter theory.

    I used to have an anole lizard and Siamese fighting fish in neighboring tanks. Both male. The fish dangled these crimson waddle things. The reptile boasted a red throat crest it could pump out. Sometimes they'd set each other off, territorially, and show colours while lunging at the glass. I could enrage either by wagging a couple of stylized pastel marks into view. So, if these meatheads couldn't even tell their own foes apart from a red smudge on paper, how on earth could they recognize a drab female of the same species? One good solution I can see is that she knows what she wants, and she's the only creature willing to mate.
    The dumb daughter theory. I like it!
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    Quote Originally Posted by mormoopid
    the tail is an indicator of health and has no impact on health, I don't know why you would even think or talk about the tail preventing parasites. Sexual selection really tends to be a selection favoring flamboyance, rather than practicallity. As such, in your example the female would be more attracted to the male that is obviously and flamboyantly successful, rather than just surviving.

    Since it's a sexual selection factor, males that are a success but aren't as flamboyant about it are less likely to mate. For example, if you have two human men of equal wealth but one has an attractive face and the other doesn't, it's pretty clear that all other things equal the more attractive man will be more successful finding a mate. It works the same way; females find it attractive. Sexual selection tends to have a runaway effect at times, the peacocks tail being a textbook example of this. You can see that your example of a physically fit male that isn't as sexually attractive wouldn't necessarily be less fit, but it would necessarily be more apparent to the females, especially when given a choice between the obvious and the slightly less obvious.

    You should do yourself a favor and look up some of the mechanics of sexual selection before just dismissing what people are saying here.
    If you read my post you will see that you are just repeating my exposition. The mechanics are also included. In additon to that I also offer a theory to explain the female preference. That is what we've been discussing here. The consensus appears to be that the female is attracted to the long tails because long tails = superior genes. My theory takes into account genetic diversity and postulates that peahen selection is good for the overall ecology.
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    At least we are in concurrence then!
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    Quote Originally Posted by williampinn
    If two birds with different tail lengths and about the same energy are compared, my guess is the short-tail bird will have more energy to devote to other attributes. The long-tail bird will have wasted a good deal of his energy on his frivolous tail and would be physically weak.
    You are putting this in reverse, william. You are assuming that each bird has the same amount of energy available to them, so growing a large tail consumes the energy that ought to be spent on matters of survival. This is not the case. On any given day the "superior" male and the average male spend the same amount of energy on general maintenance; but, the superior male has been able to amass enough additional energy to be able to support that big beautiful tail while staying alive. As you say, in terms of survival, the tail is "frivolous"; a male in serious resource stress does not put energy into maintaining a colorful tail. He's using it all himself. Only once those basic needs are met can the tail be invested in; only a male who has both survived to this point and still has plenty of extra energy can afford to invest in the tail.

    But what if the sickly bird has the longer tail? My guess is the mother will mate with the bird with the longer tail. I think you are assuming that tail length = superior genes overall. Assuming that genetic diversity is a fact, then it is entirely possible that one male could have the longest tail and be a sickly bird and another could have a slightly shorter tail and be a healthy bird. The peahens will mate with the bird with the longest tail because that is their preference.
    How can a sickly bird maintain a healthy looking long tail? He doesn't have the extra energy to put into it. And no, I'm not assuming tail length equals superior genes overall. I'm assuming tail length is indicative of traits that a mother would want her offspring to have. As I said before, immunocompetence and having the energy available to devote to it is of particular concern for birds due to the nature of nesting. You, on the other hand, are assuming that tail size is not related at all to health. You say you think a peacock with a drab tail could be healthier than a peacock with a bright tail. Can you support that?

    Muscles are useful survival tools. Peacock tails are not. A better analogy would be a man buys a hot car to attract the babes. Another man buys an economy car. Which has the better genes? Either could have the best genes overall. However, you could make the erroneous assumption that the man who bought the sports car spent the most so he must have more wealth and he would not have aquired that wealth if he did not have superior health and so on.
    Again you are drawing an incorrect analogy. Having money to buy a car is not related to the amount of energy available to your body, not in a cultural market where learned skill is how you get money. A peacock's immune system and a peacock's tail are built using the same currency - the energy available in the body.
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    Quote Originally Posted by paralith
    Quote Originally Posted by williampinn
    If two birds with different tail lengths and about the same energy are compared, my guess is the short-tail bird will have more energy to devote to other attributes. The long-tail bird will have wasted a good deal of his energy on his frivolous tail and would be physically weak.
    You are putting this in reverse, william. You are assuming that each bird has the same amount of energy available to them, so growing a large tail consumes the energy that ought to be spent on matters of survival. This is not the case. On any given day the "superior" male and the average male spend the same amount of energy on general maintenance; but, the superior male has been able to amass enough additional energy to be able to support that big beautiful tail while staying alive. As you say, in terms of survival, the tail is "frivolous"; a male in serious resource stress does not put energy into maintaining a colorful tail. He's using it all himself. Only once those basic needs are met can the tail be invested in; only a male who has both survived to this point and still has plenty of extra energy can afford to invest in the tail.

    But what if the sickly bird has the longer tail? My guess is the mother will mate with the bird with the longer tail. I think you are assuming that tail length = superior genes overall. Assuming that genetic diversity is a fact, then it is entirely possible that one male could have the longest tail and be a sickly bird and another could have a slightly shorter tail and be a healthy bird. The peahens will mate with the bird with the longest tail because that is their preference.
    How can a sickly bird maintain a healthy looking long tail? He doesn't have the extra energy to put into it. And no, I'm not assuming tail length equals superior genes overall. I'm assuming tail length is indicative of traits that a mother would want her offspring to have. As I said before, immunocompetence and having the energy available to devote to it is of particular concern for birds due to the nature of nesting. You, on the other hand, are assuming that tail size is not related at all to health. You say you think a peacock with a drab tail could be healthier than a peacock with a bright tail. Can you support that?

    Muscles are useful survival tools. Peacock tails are not. A better analogy would be a man buys a hot car to attract the babes. Another man buys an economy car. Which has the better genes? Either could have the best genes overall. However, you could make the erroneous assumption that the man who bought the sports car spent the most so he must have more wealth and he would not have aquired that wealth if he did not have superior health and so on.
    Again you are drawing an incorrect analogy. Having money to buy a car is not related to the amount of energy available to your body, not in a cultural market where learned skill is how you get money. A peacock's immune system and a peacock's tail are built using the same currency - the energy available in the body.
    Correct me if I am wrong but it seems to be your belief that long tails are not an inherited trait, but rather the tail grows long, longer, longest depending on the health or strength of the peacock. If genetic diversity is a factor then there should be a peacock with a long tail who is in poor health and a peacock with a short tail who is in excellent health within the mix of peacocks.
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    Correct me if I am wrong but it seems to be your belief that long tails are not an inherited trait, but rather the tail grows long, longer, longest depending on the health or strength of the peacock. If genetic diversity is a factor then there should be a peacock with a long tail who is in poor health and a peacock with a short tail who is in excellent health within the mix of peacocks.
    You are wrong.

    They are directly and interdependently connected. Look at dogs. We have selected them for various traits we liked in each successive generation until the final product. The same happens with the peacocks. The female chooses the most impressive looking and dancing male. How impressive he looks and dances is directly related to how fit and healthy he is, because, as has been explained, an unhealthy and unfit male with impressive looking feathers would be selected against. His dancing and prancing makes him a conspicuous target for predators for example, so an unhealthy and unfit one would be less likely to survive an attack. If he survives, he would be less adept at finding food for his female and children, so they are then less likely to survive to carry on his flawed genes. Healthy feathers need enough food.


    Oh, AFAIK and IMHO.
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    Quote Originally Posted by KALSTER
    Correct me if I am wrong but it seems to be your belief that long tails are not an inherited trait, but rather the tail grows long, longer, longest depending on the health or strength of the peacock. If genetic diversity is a factor then there should be a peacock with a long tail who is in poor health and a peacock with a short tail who is in excellent health within the mix of peacocks.
    You are wrong.

    They are directly and interdependently connected. Look at dogs. We have selected them for various traits we liked in each successive generation until the final product. The same happens with the peacocks. The female chooses the most impressive looking and dancing male. How impressive he looks and dances is directly related to how fit and healthy he is, because, as has been explained, an unhealthy and unfit male with impressive looking feathers would be selected against. His dancing and prancing makes him a conspicuous target for predators for example, so an unhealthy and unfit one would be less likely to survive an attack. If he survives, he would be less adept at finding food for his female and children, so they are then less likely to survive to carry on his flawed genes. Healthy feathers need enough food.


    Oh, AFAIK and IMHO.
    Is it possible that this hypothetical unhealthy male could have the longest tail and be a good dancer? When I say unhealthy, I mean relatively speaking. Assuming all the peacocks in a community were healthy enough to reach mating age and to dodge preditors, it is my understanding that the females will choose the one with the longest tail, but not necessarily the most healthy bird.

    You are mistaken about health polygenes and tail polygenes being interdependant on one another. The hypothesis is controversial at best. It basically postulates that overall genetic superiority can be determined by appearances. Didn't the Nazis propose something similar? Yes, I think they did, and it was falsified thank goodness!
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    Is it possible that this hypothetical unhealthy male could have the longest tail and be a good dancer? When I say unhealthy, I mean relatively speaking. Assuming all the peacocks in a community were healthy enough to reach mating age and to dodge preditors, it is my understanding that the females will choose the one with the longest tail, but not necessarily the most healthy bird.
    In the absence of too many predators and the presence of lots of food, sure, but as soon as adversity strikes the strongest will prevail. A good looking guy or girl are more commonly healthy and fit in general, right? Same with peacocks.

    You are mistaken about health polygenes and tail polygenes being interdependant on one another. The hypothesis is controversial at best. It basically postulates that overall genetic superiority can be determined by appearances. Didn't the Nazis propose something similar? Yes, I think they did, and it was falsified thank goodness!
    Well, if you look strong and fit, you probably are. In humans it has gone way beyond simple appearences. Well, to some extent. A brawny idiot can't build a very good bridge and a brainy genius aren't as good at the mundane jobs or at defending your group from competitors.
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    Quote Originally Posted by KALSTER
    Is it possible that this hypothetical unhealthy male could have the longest tail and be a good dancer? When I say unhealthy, I mean relatively speaking. Assuming all the peacocks in a community were healthy enough to reach mating age and to dodge preditors, it is my understanding that the females will choose the one with the longest tail, but not necessarily the most healthy bird.
    In the absence of too many predators and the presence of lots of food, sure, but as soon as adversity strikes the strongest will prevail. A good looking guy or girl are more commonly healthy and fit in general, right? Same with peacocks.
    I know some really good looking people who have cancer and genetic diseases. I know some ugly people who have lived to a ripe old age. Take a good look around. I am sure the same is true for peacocks.
    Quote Originally Posted by KALSTER
    Well, if you look strong and fit, you probably are.
    Well then my doctor need not test my blood or urine then.
    Quote Originally Posted by KALSTER
    In humans it has gone way beyond simple appearences. Well, to some extent. A brawny idiot can't build a very good bridge and a brainy genius aren't as good at the mundane jobs or at defending your group from competitors.
    So then you do believe that genetic diversity is a possibility.
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    I know some really good looking people who have cancer and genetic diseases. I know some ugly people who have lived to a ripe old age. Take a good look around. I am sure the same is true for peacocks.
    I only directly compared one human trait to that of peacocks. Humans are much more complicated than peacocks when it comes to sexual selection. We have a large number of possibly advantageous traits to play with.

    THIS link suggests a positive feedback loop between female and male peafowl sexual selection. I'll quote:

    "Initially to start the process, there would be a correlation between the trait and higher fitness. Two previously isolated species, A and B, could come to inhabit the same area resulting in some hybridization. In this situation reproductive isolation will be favoured. If the mean value of a trait e.g. tails, in species A, is larger than those of species B, selection would favour females of species A with preference for large tails. Once started the process could continue past the need for species isolation.

    The peahen will desire to copulate with the most attractive Peacock so that her progeny, if male, will be attractive to females in the next generation. Additionally the Peacock will desire to copulate with a Peahen that finds him attractive so that if the progeny is female, preference for his degree of ornamentation remains present in the next generation. Since the rate of change in preference is proportioned according to the highest average degree of taste amongst females, and that females desire to best other members of the sex, it creates an additive effect in the cyclical process that will yield exponential increases, in both sexes, if unchecked."

    I still think that elaborate plumage means it is more conspicuous target to predators. Also, a large tail would make it more ungainly in trying to escape predators, so a bird with large plumage would need ancestors that had both large and elaborate plumage and at the same time could escape predators successfully, so it is fitter. A male with unremarkable plumage might be just as fit or fitter than the rest, but the hens would never know. A fitter male makes for fitter female offspring as well, so the females choose fitter males for that reason as well. Fitness is one of comparatively few traits needed by the male for them to be able to produce viable offspring, as she might do most of the work in producing and caring for that offspring.
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    Kalster and paralith, you guys are my favorites now.

    Just to let you know William, people have much different sexual selection standards than peacocks. Just to build on the example though, a female human is much more attracted to a man that is physically fit. The typical muscley arms and six packs etc are found to be "hot", or at least some definition and a flat stomach. This demonstrates that they are physically fit, in a much less flamboyant way than the peacocks tail does. Peacocks, by contrast, lack muscle definition per se since they are covered by feathers; instead they use the tail as an indicator. Either way, it's still selecting for indicators that the animal is fit. You surely must be able to see the parallel there, even if it isn't a direct one.

    Long tails are an inherited trait, but the expression of said trait relies heavily on proper genetics and a healthy individual.
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    Quote Originally Posted by KALSTER
    I know some really good looking people who have cancer and genetic diseases. I know some ugly people who have lived to a ripe old age. Take a good look around. I am sure the same is true for peacocks.
    I only directly compared one human trait to that of peacocks. Humans are much more complicated than peacocks when it comes to sexual selection. We have a large number of possibly advantageous traits to play with.

    THIS link suggests a positive feedback loop between female and male peafowl sexual selection. I'll quote:

    "Initially to start the process, there would be a correlation between the trait and higher fitness. Two previously isolated species, A and B, could come to inhabit the same area resulting in some hybridization. In this situation reproductive isolation will be favoured. If the mean value of a trait e.g. tails, in species A, is larger than those of species B, selection would favour females of species A with preference for large tails. Once started the process could continue past the need for species isolation.

    The peahen will desire to copulate with the most attractive Peacock so that her progeny, if male, will be attractive to females in the next generation. Additionally the Peacock will desire to copulate with a Peahen that finds him attractive so that if the progeny is female, preference for his degree of ornamentation remains present in the next generation. Since the rate of change in preference is proportioned according to the highest average degree of taste amongst females, and that females desire to best other members of the sex, it creates an additive effect in the cyclical process that will yield exponential increases, in both sexes, if unchecked."

    I still think that elaborate plumage means it is more conspicuous target to predators. Also, a large tail would make it more ungainly in trying to escape predators, so a bird with large plumage would need ancestors that had both large and elaborate plumage and at the same time could escape predators successfully, so it is fitter. A male with unremarkable plumage might be just as fit or fitter than the rest, but the hens would never know. A fitter male makes for fitter female offspring as well, so the females choose fitter males for that reason as well. Fitness is one of comparatively few traits needed by the male for them to be able to produce viable offspring, as she might do most of the work in producing and caring for that offspring.
    You are just repeating the exposition in my original post. I would go further to say that the feedback is not positive but negative, since tail growth is more and more checked by predators. The long tails do not benefit the peacock's survival, it benefits the predators. A short-tail bird would be fitter because it could escape predators more easily. There is no reason why a short-tail bird could not inherit the best attributes minus the long tail. Natural selection favors sexual preference, not fitness. My post advances a theory that explains why peahens would favor something that makes the peacock more vulnerable to predators. I realize I am going against the grain of what you have probably studied, but that is my mission. My mission is to falsify what I think is a ridiculous theory and offer an alternative.
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    Quote Originally Posted by mormoopid
    Kalster and paralith, you guys are my favorites now.

    Just to let you know William, people have much different sexual selection standards than peacocks. Just to build on the example though, a female human is much more attracted to a man that is physically fit. The typical muscley arms and six packs etc are found to be "hot", or at least some definition and a flat stomach. This demonstrates that they are physically fit, in a much less flamboyant way than the peacocks tail does. Peacocks, by contrast, lack muscle definition per se since they are covered by feathers; instead they use the tail as an indicator. Either way, it's still selecting for indicators that the animal is fit. You surely must be able to see the parallel there, even if it isn't a direct one.

    Long tails are an inherited trait, but the expression of said trait relies heavily on proper genetics and a healthy individual.
    There is no parallel. Muscles are useful and do make a man fitter. Long tails only make the peacock sexy and less fit. He is less fit because he is more easily caught by predators.
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    Nobody gave dumb daughter theory the time of day.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pong
    Nobody gave dumb daughter theory the time of day.
    I did. The time is 8:46 P.M. Let's face it; you are ahead of your time.
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    There is a parallel in human sexual selection, except in the opposite gender. That is, women's breasts. A woman does not need all that 'filler' tissue in her breasts in order to lactate and feed a baby. A female chimp does that with what we would call a flat chest. However, a bulging breast is a sexual attractant and gets the males running.

    In fact, just like the peacock tail, you could suggest that the breasts of an average human female are actually a hindrance. They are extra weight, and can get in the way when vigorous exercise (like running away from a predator, or an over zealous male) is needed. Yet they have evolved way beyond the minimum size needed to do their primary job of lactation.

    I think the answer is a kind of runaway positive feed-back mechanism in evolution. Evolution is a lousy method of designing an organism, and produces lots of mistakes. A body structure that reduces ability to escape predators has to be seen as a kind of mistake, even if it increases sexual attractiveness.

    The female breast, like the peacock tail, began small. However, it was attractive to the opposite gender, and those with larger breasts or peacock tails were more successful reproductively. This led to a kind of 'arms race' or competition between those after a mate, leading to evolution of larger and larger breasts or tails.

    There has to be a limit. Once the breast or tail gets to a size where it is a major factor in reducing survival, evolution will stop selecting for larger versions.

    The aspect that paralith discussed is also important. A female breast that is not only large, but firm and well shaped, and symmetrical, is a better sexual attractant than one that is not all of these. Those factors are indicative of youth and health. We can assume reasonably well that the 'ideal' peacock tail is also an indicator of those factors.
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic
    There is a parallel in human sexual selection, except in the opposite gender. That is, women's breasts. A woman does not need all that 'filler' tissue in her breasts in order to lactate and feed a baby. A female chimp does that with what we would call a flat chest. However, a bulging breast is a sexual attractant and gets the males running.

    In fact, just like the peacock tail, you could suggest that the breasts of an average human female are actually a hindrance. They are extra weight, and can get in the way when vigorous exercise (like running away from a predator, or an over zealous male) is needed. Yet they have evolved way beyond the minimum size needed to do their primary job of lactation.

    I think the answer is a kind of runaway positive feed-back mechanism in evolution. Evolution is a lousy method of designing an organism, and produces lots of mistakes. A body structure that reduces ability to escape predators has to be seen as a kind of mistake, even if it increases sexual attractiveness.

    The female breast, like the peacock tail, began small. However, it was attractive to the opposite gender, and those with larger breasts or peacock tails were more successful reproductively. This led to a kind of 'arms race' or competition between those after a mate, leading to evolution of larger and larger breasts or tails.

    There has to be a limit. Once the breast or tail gets to a size where it is a major factor in reducing survival, evolution will stop selecting for larger versions.

    The aspect that paralith discussed is also important. A female breast that is not only large, but firm and well shaped, and symmetrical, is a better sexual attractant than one that is not all of these. Those factors are indicative of youth and health. We can assume reasonably well that the 'ideal' peacock tail is also an indicator of those factors.
    Speak for yourself. I like big butts.
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    Quote Originally Posted by williampinn
    Speak for yourself. I like big butts.

    at least he cannot lie, but hey...any other brother cant deny

    Did I do it right?



    Anyways, having chiseled ab muscles really don't speak of your competativeness. They are really a garnish, unless you plan on having a sit up competition with a predator to determine who eats what. Evolutionarily, it's good for a man to have 10-15 lbs of fat. In times of difficulty, it's better to have fat to rely on rather than just turning around to break down muscle. Ergo, six packs make the man sexier and less fit but serve as an indicator of fitness, just like the peacock tail.

    I've now officially become skeptical that you have much of a grasp on sexual selection and how it works. Sexual selection doesn't make any sense on a survivability level, as far as individual survivability is concerned. I don't know how to make that clearer to you. It's a runaway effect of an essentially artificial selection factor.
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    Quote Originally Posted by mormoopid
    Quote Originally Posted by williampinn
    Speak for yourself. I like big butts.

    at least he cannot lie, but hey...any other brother cant deny

    Did I do it right?



    Anyways, having chiseled ab muscles really don't speak of your competativeness. They are really a garnish, unless you plan on having a sit up competition with a predator to determine who eats what. Evolutionarily, it's good for a man to have 10-15 lbs of fat. In times of difficulty, it's better to have fat to rely on rather than just turning around to break down muscle. Ergo, six packs make the man sexier and less fit but serve as an indicator of fitness, just like the peacock tail.

    I've now officially become skeptical that you have much of a grasp on sexual selection and how it works. Sexual selection doesn't make any sense on a survivability level, as far as individual survivability is concerned. I don't know how to make that clearer to you. It's a runaway effect of an essentially artificial selection factor.
    You are just making my original point all over again. Thank you! As I have been saying, sexual selection of the peacock's long tail has nothing to do with the bird's overall fitness. If there is a rhyme or reason to it, it probably has more to do with what is good for the ecosystem. (Read my original post.)

    Re: ab muscles. I have had a six pack for 40 years and I can competently testify that ab muscles prevent internal injuries when punched. They also make climbing and acrobatics easier. They add to survivability unlike the peacock's tail.
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    william

    There is an error in current reasoning. You are looking at the peacock tail as it is now and reasoning from that situation. You need to look at the situation BEFORE the tail grew, and say : Why did it grow?

    Start with an early type peacock - Peacock tail 1.0. The peahen looks at the peacocks and judges their fitness by their tail. Remember that the bird sees in the ultraviolet and probably sees details hidden to humans, allowing it to pick up cues to genetic fitness.

    Now one of the peacocks has a larger tail. Still small by today's model 3.0, but bigger than the other peacocks. The female sees more genetic fitness cues simply because the tail is bigger. She chooses the male that is well hung.

    This begins the 'arms race' with peacocks with bigger tails getting the lady. Evolution is working on the female as well. She has to become dazzled by the display to produce offspring, so she evolves the tendency to appreciate a big tail. This is the positive feed-back that leads to bigger and bigger tails.

    Ultimately, of course, the tail gets to the point where it is a hindrance to survival and the evolutionary trend stops. However, the male still has a big tail, and the female is still dazzled by the big tail display.
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic
    william

    There is an error in current reasoning. You are looking at the peacock tail as it is now and reasoning from that situation. You need to look at the situation BEFORE the tail grew, and say : Why did it grow?

    Start with an early type peacock - Peacock tail 1.0. The peahen looks at the peacocks and judges their fitness by their tail. Remember that the bird sees in the ultraviolet and probably sees details hidden to humans, allowing it to pick up cues to genetic fitness.

    Now one of the peacocks has a larger tail. Still small by today's model 3.0, but bigger than the other peacocks. The female sees more genetic fitness cues simply because the tail is bigger. She chooses the male that is well hung.

    This begins the 'arms race' with peacocks with bigger tails getting the lady. Evolution is working on the female as well. She has to become dazzled by the display to produce offspring, so she evolves the tendency to appreciate a big tail. This is the positive feed-back that leads to bigger and bigger tails.

    Ultimately, of course, the tail gets to the point where it is a hindrance to survival and the evolutionary trend stops. However, the male still has a big tail, and the female is still dazzled by the big tail display.
    The problem with equating fitness to tail length is as follows: the assumption is made that peacocks lack genetic diversity. (Peacocks all started out with the same short tails; tails are a sign of fitness, etc.)

    Start with four peacock 1.0's. One will have superiour genes and a long tail relative to the others; another will have superior genes and a short tail relative to the others; another will have inferior genes and a long tail relative to the others; and one will have inferior genes and a short tail relative to the others. All four peacocks had enough fitness to survive to adulthood and to avoid predators. All four peacocks have tails that are relatively shorter than modern peacocks. They are now ready to mate. It is entirely possible that the peacock with the longest tail has the worst fitness overall. The peahens choose him over the others.

    So then ask yourself why that happened. It does not serve the species, but it does serve the ecosystem. (Read my original post for further details.)
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    William

    I think you are assuming tail length is the only variable. The tail will carry a number of messages to the peahen, along with length. Like a woman's breasts carrying a message of sexuality and fertility to a human male. Big breasts are not at all sexy if they hang low. We lascivious human males respond to breast size, along with other characteristics such as firmness, uplift, and symmetry.

    In the same way, the peahen model 1.0 will respond to tail length but also to other factors designating fitness, such as colour, feather shape, symmetry etc. The size of the tail is what we as humans, with our limited perception, pick up on. The peahen will respond to many variables, of which tail length is but one, though a very important one.
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic
    William

    I think you are assuming tail length is the only variable.
    Quite the contrary. I am assuming that there are more variables and demonstrating the absurdity of the claim that tail length = overall fitness.

    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic
    The tail will carry a number of messages to the peahen, along with length. Like a woman's breasts carrying a message of sexuality and fertility to a human male. Big breasts are not at all sexy if they hang low. We lascivious human males respond to breast size, along with other characteristics such as firmness, uplift, and symmetry.

    In the same way, the peahen model 1.0 will respond to tail length but also to other factors designating fitness, such as colour, feather shape, symmetry etc. The size of the tail is what we as humans, with our limited perception, pick up on. The peahen will respond to many variables, of which tail length is but one, though a very important one.
    This only proves my original point: long tails aren't needed by the peacock. Peahens could find other attributes attractive. That is, assuming they really do find other male features attractive. It does not matter what spin you put on it. A long tail is a disadvantage to the peacock as a survival tool. Its only advantage is sexual. Whether the tail is part of a whole package or not, the bottom line is the same: it is impractical for survival. Its only value is its potential to attract the peahens.
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    This thread has gone a little crazy. Let me take a step back.

    william:

    You are right in that the adaptive purpose of the tail, for the male peacock, is related ONLY to attracting the female.

    The question we have been arguing is why is is adaptive for a female to be attracted to the tail.

    In some species, it may not actually be adaptive but may have evolved as a random, lucky break by one mutated male who had a trait that appealed to females for some unrelated sensory reason. (For example, I know in some species of birds the females are somewhat attracted by anything that is the same color as their eggs, and that artificially ornamenting males with something of that color allows them to attract more females.

    It is my opinion, and the opinion of several others here, that it is adaptive for the female to be attracted to the tail because males with big bright tails, for whatever reason, have better genes, and it would benefit the female's offspring to inherit those genes. (We have argued a good deal about how this mechanism could work, and we can continue that argument later if you still have issue with it.)

    Your argument, william, is that it is adaptive for the female to be attracted to a big tail because males with big tails get eaten more by predators, and if these males were not so encumbered they would NEVER get caught, the peacock population would explode, and all the resources they need would be used up, and the peacocks would go extinct.

    Your argument comes with a great deal many assumptions that, if analyzed in detail, do not hold. These include: the predators in question would NEVER catch males with smaller tails, and even if this is true they would NEVER evolve in response to this more challenging prey to improve their hunting efficiency, that these predators are the ONLY things keeping the peacock population in check and that other mortality factors would not stop a population explosion, that peacocks would indeed use up all their resources and they wouldn't also evolve in response to this new challenging environment of increased resource competition, including simple behavioral changes like expanding their range into new locations - after all, if they are so predator-proof they could probably move into more open and dangerous areas.

    As I said at the beginning of the thread, this argument is very similar to many group selectionist arguments, and group selection is a theory that came to popularity, was rigorously tested, and found to only occur under a very select set of circumstances which have never been found to hold in animals, let alone in this case of peacocks. Your position has long since been disproven, william.

    I'm sure that now you will turn the tables and say that mine and others' position on the significance of the tail being good genes has yet to be fully supported, and that may perhaps be true - I don't know what actual research has been done with this specific species to clearly elucidate the evolutionary path that brought it to its current state. However, it has been shown through many avenues of research that costly traits can serve as advertisements of genetic fitness to potential mates, and if you desire more primary journal articles supporting this trend then I will do my best to search for some and provide them to you. However, this will have to be my last in-depth post in this thread for a while as I have finals to work on.
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    Quote Originally Posted by paralith
    In some species, it may not actually be adaptive but may have evolved as a random, lucky break by one mutated male who had a trait that appealed to females for some unrelated sensory reason. (For example, I know in some species of birds the females are somewhat attracted by anything that is the same color as their eggs, and that artificially ornamenting males with something of that color allows them to attract more females.
    What you said here confirms my belief that the tail has no survival benefit.

    Quote Originally Posted by paralith
    It is my opinion, and the opinion of several others here, that it is adaptive for the female to be attracted to the tail because males with big bright tails, for whatever reason, have better genes, and it would benefit the female's offspring to inherit those genes.
    This is subjective. Your asumption that beauty = superior genes. A short-tail bird has superior genes because it can elude predators more effectively.

    Quote Originally Posted by paralith
    Your argument, william, is that it is adaptive for the female to be attracted to a big tail because males with big tails get eaten more by predators, and if these males were not so encumbered they would NEVER get caught, the peacock population would explode, and all the resources they need would be used up, and the peacocks would go extinct.

    Your argument comes with a great deal many assumptions that, if analyzed in detail, do not hold. These include: the predators in question would NEVER catch males with smaller tails, [and even if this is true they would NEVER evolve in response to this more challenging prey to improve their hunting efficiency,
    That is a strawman. Read my post again. I make no such assumption. My position is that predators would have more difficulty and I fully acknowlege they could improve or hunt alternative prey.

    Quote Originally Posted by paralith
    and even if this is true they would NEVER evolve in response to this more challenging prey to improve their hunting efficiency,
    The thing you have to consider is the fact they would have to evolve or go extinct. Random mutations are not a guarantee. Natural selection only works if there is a mutant who is a better hunter than its parents. If no mutant is born, say bye bye to the predator.


    Quote Originally Posted by paralith
    that these predators are the ONLY things keeping the peacock population in check
    Another strawman. Prey as well as predators can check the peafowl numbers. Most species go extinct however. The false assumption you are making is somehow peafowl and their predators and prey will necessarily find other ways to adapt and survive if the tail factor is removed.


    Quote Originally Posted by paralith
    and that other mortality factors would not stop a population explosion, that peacocks would indeed use up all their resources and they wouldn't also evolve in response to this new challenging environment of increased resource competition, including simple behavioral changes like expanding their range into new locations - after all, if they are so predator-proof they could probably move into more open and dangerous areas.
    What you have stated here is an assumption on your part. The assumption being that something else (you don't say what) will pick up the slack or fill the ecological void.
    Quote Originally Posted by paralith
    As I said at the beginning of the thread, this argument is very similar to many group selectionist arguments, and group selection is a theory that came to popularity, was rigorously tested, and found to only occur under a very select set of circumstances which have never been found to hold in animals, let alone in this case of peacocks. Your position has long since been disproven, william.
    I disagree. You have not shown this to be the case. Saying so doesn't make it so.
    Quote Originally Posted by paralith
    I'm sure that now you will turn the tables and say that mine and others' position on the significance of the tail being good genes has yet to be fully supported,
    Been there, done that.

    Quote Originally Posted by paralith
    and that may perhaps be true - I don't know what actual research has been done with this specific species to clearly elucidate the evolutionary path that brought it to its current state. However, it has been shown through many avenues of research that costly traits can serve as advertisements of genetic fitness to potential mates,
    What research has shown that a short-tail peacock can't live as long as a long-tail bird? Or for that matter, what research has shown that any trait that is a disadvantage to a species is somehow a genetic advantage? That is absurd! It is like postulating that if a car with a faulty engine makes the trip, it must be a superiour car! A superior car compared to what? Not to a car with a good engine. Read my lips: short tail = superior = escape from predators. Long-tail = inferior (except for sex) = get eaten by tiger.
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    Quote Originally Posted by williampinn
    Its only value is its potential to attract the peahens.
    Yes. It says, "I'm a peacock... Look at me, I'm most certainly a peacock. LOOK! LOOK YOU PEA-BRAIN!" This initiative on the male's part is valuable to the birdbrained female who is better adapted pecking pecking pecking than pausing to check out every bird that struts into view. She doesn't spare the capacity to critically rate other birds, like "is it male?" and "is he my species?" then "is he fit?" etc. That would place a huge burden on the peahen. So mate selection is largely taken care of by male investment and initiative.

    Dumb daughters are better.

    A flamboyant display of species also works for males because they mate most successfully if indiscriminately horny, yet flagged so that other species won't allow mating.
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    Quote Originally Posted by williampinn
    This is subjective. Your asumption that beauty = superior genes. A short-tail bird has superior genes because it can elude predators more effectively.
    And how is your statement any less subjective? If we're going to get into the nitty gritty of superior genes, we need to know WHAT genes we're talking about, HOW they are superior in a given environment. Perhaps a short-tailed bird does have better predator evasion genes. But does a female care about predator evasion for chicks in a nest? Does she care about predator evasion if her offspring will be able to reproduce very successfully long before they get eaten? If a short tailed bird has good predator evasion genes do we know what his health-related genes are like? What if he leaves tigers in the dust only to die from a parasite infection?

    This has been explained to you multiple times in multiple ways. Unless you can come up with some genuinely significant objections I'll leave others to continue this particular line of discussion.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pong
    Quote Originally Posted by williampinn
    Its only value is its potential to attract the peahens.
    Yes. It says, "I'm a peacock... Look at me, I'm most certainly a peacock. LOOK! LOOK YOU PEA-BRAIN!" This initiative on the male's part is valuable to the birdbrained female who is better adapted pecking pecking pecking than pausing to check out every bird that struts into view. She doesn't spare the capacity to critically rate other birds, like "is it male?" and "is he my species?" then "is he fit?" etc. That would place a huge burden on the peahen. So mate selection is largely taken care of by male investment and initiative.

    Dumb daughters are better.

    A flamboyant display of species also works for males because they mate most successfully if indiscriminately horny, yet flagged so that other species won't allow mating.
    Whatever the theory you choose, it has to do with sex--not survival fitness. Dumb daughters RULE!
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    Quote Originally Posted by paralith
    Quote Originally Posted by williampinn
    This is subjective. Your asumption that beauty = superior genes. A short-tail bird has superior genes because it can elude predators more effectively.
    And how is your statement any less subjective? If we're going to get into the nitty gritty of superior genes, we need to know WHAT genes we're talking about, HOW they are superior in a given environment. Perhaps a short-tailed bird does have better predator evasion genes. But does a female care about predator evasion for chicks in a nest? Does she care about predator evasion if her offspring will be able to reproduce very successfully long before they get eaten? If a short tailed bird has good predator evasion genes do we know what his health-related genes are like? What if he leaves tigers in the dust only to die from a parasite infection?

    This has been explained to you multiple times in multiple ways. Unless you can come up with some genuinely significant objections I'll leave others to continue this particular line of discussion.
    My statement is objective because it is tied to a real survival advantage. Short-tail birds can fly and run faster. The only disadvantage is peahens don't go for an objectively superior attribute. Your "long tails = better genes" statement is tied to nothing other than the sexual attraction. "Some how some way the genes must be superior because peahens are attracted to birds that can barely fly or escape predators. And if they do manage to live to mating age and are promply eaten by a tiger after mating, they must have superior genes to the short-tail bird that lives to a ripe-old age." Such is the subjectivity and absurdity of your position.
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    There is an alternative dispute that has apparently risen here. Group versus individual selection. William proposed a kind of group selection, with long tail bird groups surviving due to weeding out by predators, and shorter tail groups dying out due to overpopulation. Paralith believes that group selection as a mechanism has been disproved, and will not go along with this mechanism.

    Not quite so. A recent New Scientist article discussed a recent resurgence in group selection theory, and suggested that it might happen after all. But that is another issue.

    I personally think William's theory is not correct, but for a different reason. His suggested mechanism is not needed. Increasing population is actually a selective advantage - not disadvantage. if more birds survive, then the population is stronger. Only Lemmings and other organisms in simplified ecosystems overpopulate to the point where mass death occurs (note : death - not suicide!). Peacocks are native of India, a complex tropical ecosystem, and hence relatively stable. When population rises, this the growth is reduced and stabilised in the rapid application of modifying influences such as disease or predation.

    We get back to sexual selection. Whatever the opposite gender finds attractive tends to evolve and become bigger or better. The whole bird world is full of examples, where bright colours and long feathers become the norm due to mate attraction.
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    Quote Originally Posted by paralith
    If we're going to get into the nitty gritty of superior genes, we need to know WHAT genes we're talking about, HOW they are superior in a given environment. Perhaps a short-tailed bird does have better predator evasion genes. But does a female care about predator evasion for chicks in a nest?
    A short-tail, being a faster bird can lead predators away from the nest for a longer duration before getting caught.
    Quote Originally Posted by paralith
    If a short tailed bird has good predator evasion genes do we know what his health-related genes are like? What if he leaves tigers in the dust only to die from a parasite infection?
    Do parasites care how long the tail is? I don't think so.
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic

    I personally think William's theory is not correct, but for a different reason. His suggested mechanism is not needed. Increasing population is actually a selective advantage - not disadvantage. if more birds survive, then the population is stronger.
    Then you disagree with the main principle of ecology 101: Thou shalt not tamper with the ecosystem or you will cause extinctions. If the peafowl handicap were removed, other species depending on said handicap would be forced to adapt or go extinct. Extinction is most likely since random mutations are not a guarantee.
    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic

    Only Lemmings and other organisms in simplified ecosystems overpopulate to the point where mass death occurs (note : death - not suicide!). Peacocks are native of India, a complex tropical ecosystem, and hence relatively stable. When population rises, this the growth is reduced and stabilised in the rapid application of modifying influences such as disease or predation.
    Again, random mutations = no guarantees.
    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic

    We get back to sexual selection. Whatever the opposite gender finds attractive tends to evolve and become bigger or better. The whole bird world is full of examples, where bright colours and long feathers become the norm due to mate attraction.
    I agree. It is all sex...sex...sex...
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic
    The whole bird world is full of examples, where bright colours and long feathers become the norm due to mate attraction.
    It's not just desirable, it's critical that females easily recognize viable mates. The more distinctly viable the male (bottom line is same species), the less investment females must put into mate selection. Keep in mind that birds are not very perceptive ornithologists. Peahens can't tell peacocks from turkeys without those species markings looming in view. The less they have to think the better.

    The markings are not a handicap. They're a favour to female efficiency.
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    William said :

    "Then you disagree with the main principle of ecology 101: Thou shalt not tamper with the ecosystem or you will cause extinctions. If the peafowl handicap were removed, other species depending on said handicap would be forced to adapt or go extinct. Extinction is most likely since random mutations are not a guarantee."

    Actually ecosystems are being changed all the time. Forest fires. Landslips. Random species migration. Changes in water flow. Volcanoes etc. Most of the time this results in changes in population size or structure with no extinction. It takes something more major, or a longer time frame, to cause extinctions. eg. the introduction of a new predator, competitor or pathogen.
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    Deep ab muscles maybe, but shallow six packs? please.

    Kinda late on the draw there but I had to work all day.


    Anyways, just wanna say this then I'll not argue this sillyness anymore. The SELECTION of the pretty males by the females has nothing to do with fitness except for: the EXPRESSION of said prettiness has everything to do with fitness and health and a fair portion to do with genetics as well (though, to be fair, good genes won't save you if you are covered in parasites, since your tail will be shit).


    It's almost like making a point, having the person say they already made it and then go off on a tangent that loops everything back to the original point. It's stupid since someone doesn't get certain aspects and hyperfocuses on others.
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    Quote Originally Posted by mormoopid
    Anyways, just wanna say this then I'll not argue this sillyness anymore. The SELECTION of the pretty males by the females has nothing to do with fitness except for: the EXPRESSION of said prettiness has everything to do with fitness and health and a fair portion to do with genetics as well (though, to be fair, good genes won't save you if you are covered in parasites, since your tail will be shit).
    basically the long tail of a peacock is a signal of fitness that can't be faked, and therefore is a good one to show off good genes : an unfit peacock with a long tail would have become someone's lunch before he could attract any females
    so if you're still in the game of impressing females with your long tail even though it's a hindrance to your chances of survival, your genes must be worth handing over to the next generation
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    Quote Originally Posted by marnixR
    so if you're still in the game of impressing females with your long tail even though it's a hindrance to your chances of survival, your genes must be worth handing over to the next generation
    The tail is not a hindrance. It is not frivolous. It is directly advantageous to the male and the female. Parasite load has nothing to do with it.

    ...did anybody read my posts?
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    i wasn't talking about parasite load
    if you've ever seen a peacock fly into a tree you'll have to agree that a would-be predator has a better chance of catching it than if it didn't have such a cumbersome tail - in that respect the long tail is a hindrance to its survival chances
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    The tail is definitely a hindrance. I would suspect that evolution towards bigger tails has long since stopped. Extra sexiness would be counter-balanced by higher death rate. If we want to understand evolution of the long tail, we need to consider an earlier stage, before the tail got so long.
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    Mr. Dung Beetle's great prize hinders him too. The purpose is not to indicate fitness by hindering him. Even an apparently runaway investment on his part means that much less investment by the female.

    Remember that her means of making a sexual selection is an investment. It's behavioral baggage. That may seem trivial to us but to a tunnelvisioned peahen it's a big deal.
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic
    The tail is definitely a hindrance. I would suspect that evolution towards bigger tails has long since stopped. Extra sexiness would be counter-balanced by higher death rate. If we want to understand evolution of the long tail, we need to consider an earlier stage, before the tail got so long.
    The tail is an indicator of fitness, since evading predators with a long tail is difficult. But a long tail won't necessarily stop the bird from fulfilling its manly duties during gestation and the rearing of the offspring. Also, those strong genes are passed on to any female offspring as well, where the tail does not come into it. That female offspring can then produce fit male and female offspring in turn, et cetera. As has been said, birds don't have any visible muscles and a female can't always actually watch the male demonstrating his fitness in other ways, like jousting other males, evading predators or gathering food. The tail then shows her all of these things, since a short tailed male has a much easier time of evading predators. Both sexes, and so the species, benefit from the long tail sexual selection mechanism in this way. Anything wrong with that picture?
    Disclaimer: I do not declare myself to be an expert on ANY subject. If I state something as fact that is obviously wrong, please don't hesitate to correct me. I welcome such corrections in an attempt to be as truthful and accurate as possible.

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    Quote Originally Posted by KALSTER
    The tail is an indicator of fitness, since evading predators with a long tail is difficult... Anything wrong with that picture?
    Sorry, yes. Because I've shown that sacrificial demonstration of fitness is unnecessary. I've explained how the tail makes economic sense.

    To understand dumb daughter theory one must recognize that sexual selection demands a significant investment on the female's part. It's the behavioral equivalent of dragging seldom used extra limbs. All the male can do to lighten this load is directly advantageous.
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