Life hack: Female hummingbirds wear male clothes to avoid being harassed

In terms of colors, this looks like a male hummingbird, but it is a female. US researchers have discovered that some females disguise themselves as males so as not to be harassed by males.Irene Mendes Cruz Statue

In the bird kingdom, it is usually the males who try to impress the females with their brightly colored plumage. This is also the case with the white-necked hummingbird (Florisoga Millifora): As a rule, females are inconspicuous in gray-green and white and males steal the show with a bright blue head, metallic green back and white belly. But this dichotomy does not always apply to these birds, as it turns out. Some females have the same bright colors as the males.

two hypotheses

The researchers see two possible explanations, They write in the magazine current biology. Option 1: Brightly colored females are more attractive to males, and therefore they have a greater chance of breeding. Option 2: The bright colors actually ensure that males bother them less, with the evolutionary advantage that females have more time for useful things like foraging.

Biologists traveled to Panama and captured 436 white-necked hummingbirds. Remarkably, all the young birds were brightly colored, including the females. Older females were as gray or brightly colored as the males. This means that many females go through a change as they mature: from colored to gray. Researchers do not know whether this phenomenon is genetically determined, the selection of the bird itself, or the result of environmental factors.

In any case, according to biologists, it is an argument for the sexual harassment hypothesis. Young birds that have not yet breed are useless if the males like their colors – it is better to confuse them with males and leave them alone.

Video footage and experience with hummingbirds stuffed into their looks provided conclusive evidence: Gray females were harassed more often than brightly colored females. Think air chases, tap each other’s feathers and even the occasional wrestling match. If the female “dresses” as a male, she is not immediately recognized as a partner and can make her own plan.

Poor energy balance

Martijn Hammers, an ecologist at the Aeres Hogeschool in Almere who is not involved in the hummingbird study, agrees with the new research finding. Hummingbirds have a poor energy balance, and they have to eat incessantly to stay alive. If a female is harassed all the time, she will not have time to eat and this is very unfavorable.

According to Hammers, this research answers a fundamental evolutionary question. The ecologist points out that similar behavior is already known from other animals. Female insects also sometimes take on the colors of males to avoid being intimidated. The fact that this also occurs in hummingbirds suggests that this clever phenomenon may be more prevalent throughout the animal kingdom.

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