22

3 comments

I haven't chased references in the pre-print of the paper yet, but right away I thought of Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, who wrote a book called The Woman That Never Evolved way back in 1981 challenging the daft claims that females played no role in evolution, focussing on primates since she is an anthropologist.

As the midday sun hangs over the Scandinavian spruce forest, a swarm of hopeful suitors takes to the air. They are dance flies, and it is time to attract a mate. Zigzagging and twirling, the flies show off their wide, darkened wings and feathery leg scales. They inflate their abdomens like balloons, making themselves look bigger and more appealing to a potential partner.

Suddenly, the swarm electrifies with excitement at the arrival of a new fly, the one they have all been waiting for: a male. It’s time for the preening flock of females to shine.

The flies are flipping the classic drama reenacted across the animal kingdom, in which eager males with dazzling plumage, snarls of antlers or other extraordinary traits compete for a chance to woo a reluctant female. Such competitions between males for the favor of choosy females are enshrined in evolutionary theory as “sexual selection,” with the females’ choices molding the evolution of the males’ instruments of seduction over generations.

Makes practical sense from the perspective of speciation. Mating attraction rituals leads to similarly adapted individuals reproducing and mutating into a new species. It's quite possible the nuances of mating display serves to identify mates with similar adaptations, even among species that we observe as identical.