The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

9 May 2006

Birds do it, unlike some of us

Found at Salon's Broadsheet:

In some respects, nice guys really do finish first, according to Sharon Begley's story in Friday's Wall Street Journal. Or at least nice birds do.

The findings, based on research with male flycatchers, essentially blow Charles Darwin's theory of sexual selection out of the water. The so-called sexy-son hypothesis holds that a female who mates with an attractive male will have cute offspring. They, of course, will be just as charming, able to get the girl and give their mother a gaggle of gorgeous grandkids. As time went on, the most desirable genes would survive since females would covet them.

In the case of the flycatcher, however, the hot male birds were so busy getting their groove on, they ignored their little ones. The busted birds, on the other hand, were better fathers, creating sons who later had no problem getting the ladies to lay a few eggs.

The idea that females choose mates by getting an eyeful of how they look in their genes is being increasingly challenged. "Instead of choosing mates who will increase the genetic quality of their offspring, females make choices that will increase their number of offspring," Stanford biologist Joan Roughgarden told Begley.

I long have had reason to distrust that hypothesis: my kids are cute, and their kids are cute, despite the fact that all of them are related to me. Maybe it's the other side of the family whose genetic material prevailed.

"Each kind of male has its own way of going about its life. Each works out fine," stresses Roughgarden. So what does this tell us? Well, for starters, women are not always won over by all the male genetic bling out there. Maybe it explains why human females are so fond of the sweet guys with the soft bodies and bald spots, who make us laugh, and take good care of their little flycatchers. Now, that's sexy!

I don't think anyone's likely to accuse me of sweetness.

Posted at 10:32 AM to Table for One