Female active sampling of male paint on bowers predicts female uncertainty in mate choice

Jason Keagy, Linda Cendes Hosler, Gerald Borgia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


It can be difficult to assess the degree to which a female attends to an individual element of a multicomponent male courtship display. Quantifying behaviours where females actively sample a male display element (such as smelling or tasting a chemical signal) can provide detailed information about differences between females in their sampling behaviour and reliance on that element in making mate choice decisions. Bower 'paint' is a unique male sexual display trait found in satin bowerbirds, Ptilonorhynchus violaceus. Male bowerbirds masticate dried hoop pine (Araucaria cunninghamii) needles and apply this paste to the inside walls of their bowers. Female bowerbirds move among bowers of different males until they choose a mate. Recent mate searching experience and other factors appear to affect this process. Females visiting bowers taste the paint when they nip at the painted wall. Why females sample paint is unknown, but there is now strong evidence that female sampling of paint is important in mate selection. We tested the hypothesis that tasting is related to female uncertainty in mate choice. We found that a greater tendency of females to taste paint on bowers was associated with three measures of female mate choice uncertainty: (1) more frequent female visits to bowers, (2) mating with multiple males and (3) switching frequently among visited males. We suggest that high rates of tasting are predictive of female uncertainty in mate choice, perhaps due to some females initially having limited information about the quality of potential mates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)131-137
Number of pages7
JournalAnimal Behaviour
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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