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Female animals may look drab to prevent sexual harassment

Females use a variety of tactics to avoid the attention of males, researchers argue.
By Brooks Hays   |   March 18, 2016 at 5:31 PM

EXETER, England, March 18 (UPI) -- Males animals, especially birds, often employ brighter colors and other anatomical eccentricities to attract mates. But why do females tend to adopt a duller ensemble?

New research suggests females employ a drab appearance to limit sexual harassment.

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Previously, scientists hypothesized that camouflage is more important for females. Others suggested ornamentation may diminish fertility.

The latest findings -- detailed in the journal Animal Behaviour -- offer a different explanation. Females just want to be left alone.

"If we accept the premise that males, while not as choosy as females, still exert some choice of mate then the question is why don't females signal their sexual quality via ornamental sexual traits like males do?" study author David Hosken, a professor of ecology at the University of Exeter, said in a news release. "We suggest that if female ornaments signalled their sexual quality, females could suffer increased sexual harassment by males and this could be especially costly to fitness."

In their latest paper, Hosken and his colleagues point to all the strategies used by females to avoid the attention of males -- using camouflage, mimicking the appearance of males, employing anti-aphrodisiacs and physically combating sexual harassment.

"We are not suggesting that male harassment of attractive females is the only explanation for lack of sexual ornamentation in females but want to alert researchers to the idea that this could be a contributing factor," added Hosken.

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