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Courtship - Courtship In Insects, Courtship In Fish, Courtship In Birds, Courtship In Mammals

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Cosine to Cyano group

Courtship is a complex set of behaviors in animals that leads to mating. Courtship behavior communicates to each of the potential mates that the other is not a threat. It also reveals information to each animal that the species, gender, and physical condition of the other are suitable for mating. Pre-mating activities are for the most part ritualistic. They consist of a series of fixed action patterns that are species-specific. Each fixed action triggers an appropriate fixed reaction by the partner, with one action stimulating the next. Courtship allows one or both sexes to select a mate from several candidates. Usually, the females do the choosing. In some species of birds, males display in a lek, a small communal area, where females select a mate from the displaying males. Males, generally, compete with each other for mates, and females pick the best quality male available. The danger of courtship is that it can attract predators instead of mates.

Several basic factors influence a female's choice of mate. First, if a female provides parental care, she chooses as competent a male as possible. For example, in birds such as the common tern, the female selects a good fish catcher. As part of courtship, the male birds display fish to the female, and may even feed them to her. This demonstrates his ability to feed the young. In addition, females tend to select males with resources such as food or shelter which help a mating pair to produce more offspring that survive. In the long-jawed longhorned beetle that lives in the Arizona desert, males battle each other for saguaro cactus fruit. The females mate in exchange for access to the fruit. A male endowed with large mandibles can defeat other males, take over the fruit, and thus attract females. Genetic fitness is another important factor in mate selection. In species that lack parental care, offspring rely for survival on qualities that they inherit from their parents. During courtship, energetic displays and striking appearance indicate good health. Vigorous, attractive parents generally pass immunities to their offspring. Attractiveness may depend on the intensity of secondary sex characteristics, which in birds, for example, include colorful plumage and long tails. Another advantage is that inherited attractive features make offspring desirable to mates.

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