Bearded ladies: Females suffer fitness consequences when bearing male traits

Lindsey Swierk, Tracy Langkilde

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


A central assumption in evolutionary biology is that females of sexually dimorphic species suffer costs when bearing male secondary sexual traits, such as ornamentation. Nevertheless, it is common in nature to observe females bearing rudimentary versions of male ornaments (e.g. 'bearded ladies'), as ornaments can be under similar genetic control in both sexes. Here, we provide evidence that masculinized females incur both social and reproductive costs in nature. Male fence lizards (Sceloporus undulatus) discriminated against ornamented females during mate choice. Ornamented females had lower reproductive output, and produced eggs that were laid and hatched later than those of non-ornamented females. These findings support established theories of the evolution of sexual dimorphism andintralocus sexual conflict, and raise questions regarding the persistence of masculinizing ornamentation in females.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20130644
JournalBiology Letters
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 23 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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