Study Concludes Guppies Need Spice When It Comes to Love Too

You think women have high standards? Humans have it easy. Scientists at Florida State University have been studying the idea of habituation and novelty when it comes to guppy mating decisions, and things look rough in the game for guppies.

When a trait is ecologically important, populations display great genetic diversity. We’ve yet, until recently, been able to chip away at the biological wonder of variation within species. Scientists have scratched their heads at this for ages, but maybe they should have spent more time at bars for inspiration. Novelty has been neglected. Humans like to keep things interesting with our partners and apparently so do other species.

This FSU study was centered around the idea of habituation, a universal type of learning in which subjects become less responsive to repeated stimuli. In other words, if you were at a coffee shop and everyone was sporting a snappy mustache, suddenly, it’d be way less appealing the 20th time you saw it walk through the front door. Female guppies feel the same way. Well, minus the mustache thing.

Florida State used the Trinidadian guppy, a species in which male colors are both diverse and inheritable, unlike in our mustache analogy. The researchers repeatedly exposed the female guppies to a selected color pattern and tracked their responses to the male guppies’ courtship displays. In this display, a male will express his interest by performing a dance for the girl he has his eye on, and if the female reciprocates interest, she will then move forward and approach the male. Sounds like real-life Bumble, am I right?

As you may have guessed, this didn’t happen. The female guppies were sick of seeing the same old same old. However, when the female guppies were in isolation for a brief period, their interest in the tested color pattern was again piqued. Did they get nostalgia for their old flames? Well, their behavior is more aptly explained by the two core criteria of habituation: decline of response with continual stimulus and recovery after the stimulus is taken away.

Moral of the story for all you guppies out there: be yourself. But if you’re like everyone else, don’t be yourself; be better.

Florida State University’s discovery provided the first ever evidence that habituation is a factor in mating preference. Scientists now believe that the guppies’ need to spice things up may have further implications in genetic variation on a broader scale. Maintenance of this crucial diversity can only be fully understood when the social and ecological settings of a species are accounted for. The researchers at FSU also proposed that their findings show the importance of integrating concepts from various fields to inspire novel ideas and hypotheses. Teamwork makes the dream work!

I couldn’t do a post about fish and not include this video.

Daniel, M.J., Koffinas, L., & Hughes, K.A. 15 May, 2019. Habituation underpins preference for mates with novel phenotypes in the guppy. Retrieved from https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/full/10.1098/rspb.2019.0435.

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