‘Sexy’ Females Help Others Find a Mate, New Research Shows

Biologists have learned that unattractive female moths attract mates using help from friends.

September 2, 2017 5:00 am

Though most people wouldn’t necessarily think of moths as “sexy” or “not sexy,” Science reports that some unattractive female moths have better luck finding mates if they hang out with their more attractive friends.

In a study conducted by University of Amsterdam evolutionary biologist Astrid Groot, researchers separated and bred the most and least attractive female moths. They then paired off the females from both strains in different combinations and let them basically play the moth version of The Bachelor or The Dating Game. 

They found that pairs of attractive females always got a mate, while pairs of unattractive females never did. But when they paired one attractive moth with an unattractive moth, the unattractive moth was able to mate an average 17 percent of the time, writes Science.  Female moths use pheromones to attract mates. and while males were drawn to the more attractive scents, sometimes they missed their target and mated with a less attractive option.

Attractive females also benefit from hanging out with their less attractive friends. When two attractive moths are paired, each female has a 50-50 chance of attracting a mate. But when paired with an unattractive partner, the sexy moth has a better chance, and the male makes his choice faster.

“We often think of mate choice as a perfect and entirely binary process—you are attractive or you are not,” behavioral/evolutionary ecologist Therésa Jones told Science in a comment about the study. “But this is clearly not the case.”

The study’s results were reported at the XIV Congress of the European Society of Evolutionary Biology. According to University of Amsterdam behavioral ecologist Wouter Halfwerk, they “demonstrate the importance of the social environment.”

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