A Moment of Science

Female Guppy Fish Love Risk Takers

Hey women! Are you more likely to date a risk-taker? Scientists have learned that guppy fish do the same thing!

A very colorful guppy fish on a black background

Photo: Alice Chaos (Flickr)

Female guppy fish prefer risk-takers compared to colorful cowards in a mate.

Nobody could attract women like James Bond. They just couldn’t resist his manly qualities, like his penchant for dodging bullets, or leaping from airplanes.

Well, those old Bond movies look kind of silly these days, especially the dim-witted female characters who fawn all over Bond at the drop of a hat. But there’s something interesting going on here. The suggestion seems to be that males who take risks are more attractive to females.

Women Love Risk-Takers?

Studies done on another species — guppies — suggest just such a mechanism for the attractiveness of risk-taking.

Researchers Lee Dugatkin and Jean-Guy Godin noticed a fish equivalent of risk-taking behavior: when a predator is introduced into the tank, male guppies swim up to it. The females watch from a distance. The guppy that swims closest to the predator, without being eaten, is then regarded as more attractive by the females. It gets more mates.

A Guppy Experiment

To see how strong this effect was, Dugatkin and Godin placed two male guppies in little transparent containers that could be moved around by wires. One guppy was less brightly colored than the other.

Although female guppies usually choose the brighter colored of two males, when the dimmer guppy was moved closer to the predator, females chose him over the brighter alternative.

This is a dangerous game for males to play, but has its advantages for females. The guppy that takes greater risks and still zooms away has demonstrated that he is the faster, more physically fit guppy. He will probably give healthy offspring. Smarts, of course, is another issue.

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