Is it their luminously colored feathers, decorated with enchanting eyespot patterns? Or, could it be those fancy head crests? Maybe, it’s their long legs, outfitted with pointy spurs?
In other words, what constitutes a “hot” peacock, according to an eligible peahen?
Jessica Yorzinski, a research scientist at UC Davis and Duke University, is using peahen-sized, custom-fitted cameras equipped with eye tracking technology to study peacock courtship.
Considered by Yorzinski to be “a textbook example of sexual selection,” the peacock is still elusive when it comes to mate selection. Yorzinski conducted an eye-tracking experiment on 12 female Indian peacocks (Pavo cristatus) to study their reaction to the prancing and strutting of males vying for their attention.
The peahens wore a cap outfitted with two miniature cameras; one camera recorded the scene in front of the peahen, and the other recorded her eye movements as she sized up potential mates.
As the high-tech peahen looked on – and her tiny cameras recorded – the male peacock strutted his stuff by fanning and shaking his impressive tail feathers, causing the eye spots to shimmer in a brilliant display. After doing a little mating dance, the male twirled to show off his ruffled backside.
A wireless transmitter, which was connected to the female’s head-mounted cameras, sent video signals to a computer. The female’s eye movements were then displayed as coordinates on the computer’s screen.
According to study results, peahens spent less than one-third of the time actually looking at their suitors while the male was busy parading in front of them. And, when the females were eyeing the males, their focus was concentrated on the males’ legs and the base of their semicircular tails. They barely even glanced at the upper parts of the tails, where the eye-catching eye spots are situated, much less at their crested heads.
Scientists insist that the peahens aren’t being rude; they simply don’t need all the pomp and circumstance to determine whether a mate is suitable. The lower parts of a male’s tail reveal the width or symmetry of his train, according to Yorzinski. Maturity in peacocks can be measured by this width.
However, the gorgeous feathers probably catch peahens’ attention from afar, so that the mating dance can actually occur. And, those dance moves matter a lot, apparently. Yorzinski found that peahens looked the longest when the males were shaking their tail feathers – literally.
So, as you can see, when it comes to peacock courtship, there’s more than meets the eye. And, thanks to eye tracking technology, now we probably know way more than we ever needed to about what makes a peacock most likely to get lucky.
Image credit: “Peacock” by Kristine 233 is licensed with CC BY-ND 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/