Original Paper

Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 62, Issue 3, pp 439-445

First online:

UV wavelengths make female three-spined sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus) more attractive for males

  • Ingolf P. RickAffiliated withInstitut für Evolutionsbiologie und Ökologie, University of Bonn Email author 
  • , Theo C. M. BakkerAffiliated withInstitut für Evolutionsbiologie und Ökologie, University of Bonn

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Numerous fishes possess UV vision and show UV patterns, which often play a role in social communication, especially during courtship. UV light is scattered strongly in water and thus might be used for intra-specific close-range communication without being detected by predators. In addition to the red-belly colouration and blue-coloured iris, male three-spined sticklebacks possess UV reflectance on their skin, and females prefer males presented with UV light rather than without. To investigate whether UV also influences male visual preference for females in this species, we used a dichotomous mate choice design in which one female could be viewed by a male in two visual conditions. Courting male sticklebacks preferred females that were presented in full-spectrum conditions including UV to the same females presented in conditions lacking this light component. Furthermore, control trials with neutral-density filters indicated that male preference in the UV treatment was not affected by a difference in achromatic brightness between the UV+ and UV− stimuli. Reflectance measurements of gravid females suggest an enhanced UV contrast between the dark bar pattern, which is characteristic of gravid females, and silvery body parts.


Male choice Spectral reflectance Stickleback UV vision