Letter | Published:

Female choice selects for extreme tail length in a widowbird

Naturevolume 299pages818820 (1982) | Download Citation



Darwin's1 hypothesis that male secondary sexual ornaments evolve through female preferences is theoretically plausible2–7, but there is little experimental field evidence that such preferences exist8–10. I have studied female choice in relation to male tail length in the long-tailed widowbird, Euplectes progne, and report here that males in which the tail was experimentally elongated showed higher mating success than males having normal or reduced tails. The possibility that intrasexual competition among males maintains the long tail was not supported: males with shortened tails held their territories as long as did other males. These results suggest that the extreme tail length in male long-tailed widowbirds is maintained by female mating preferences.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. 1

    Darwin, C. The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (John Murray, London, 1871).

  2. 2

    Fisher, R. A. The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection (Clarendon, Oxford, 1930).

  3. 3

    Maynard Smith, J. in A Century of Darwin (ed. Barnett, S. A.) 231–245 (Heineman, London, 1958).

  4. 4

    O'Donald, P. Theor. Populat. Biol. 12, 298–334 (1977).

  5. 5

    O'Donald, P. Genetic Models of Sexual Selection (Cambridge University Press, 1980).

  6. 6

    Lande, R. Proc. natn. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 79, 3721–3725 (1981).

  7. 7

    Kirkpatrick, M. Evolution 36, 1–12 (1982).

  8. 8

    Halliday, T. R. in Behavioural Ecology, An Evolutionary Approach (eds Krebs, J. R. & Davies, N. B.) 180–213 (Blackwell, Oxford, 1978).

  9. 9

    Andersson, M. Biol. J. Linn. Soc. 17, 375–393 (1982).

  10. 10

    Searcy, W. A. A. Rev. Ecol. Syst. 13 (in the press).

  11. 11

    Craig, A. J. F. K. J. Orn. 121, 144–161 (1980).

  12. 12

    Lack, D. Ibis 77, 817–836 (1935).

  13. 13

    Craig, A. J. F. K. Ostrich 45, 149–160 (1974).

  14. 14

    Orians, G. H. Am. Nat. 103, 589–603 (1969).

  15. 15

    Staddon, J. E. R. Am. Nat. 109, 541–545 (1975).

  16. 16

    Parker, G. A. in Current Problems in Sociobiology (Cambridge University Press, in the press).

  17. 17

    Borgia, G. in Sexual Selection and Reproductive Competition in Insects (eds Blum, M. S. & Blum, N. A.) 19–80 (Academic, New York, 1979).

  18. 18

    Bradley, J. V. Distribution-free Statistical Tests (Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, 1968).

Download references

Author information


  1. Department of Zoology, University of Gothenburg, PO Box 25059, S-400 31, Gothenburg, Sweden

    • Malte Andersson


  1. Search for Malte Andersson in:

About this article

Publication history



Issue Date



Further reading


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.