A novel, sexually selected trait in poeciliid fishes: female preference for mustache-like, rostral filaments in male Poecilia sphenops
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Female choice can often drive the elaboration of male traits, leading to the evolution of secondary sexual traits. In the Mexican molly, Poecilia sphenops (Poeciliidae), some males exhibit a mustache-like structure on the upper maxilla, the function of which has not been previously recognized. The mustache consists of epidermal outgrowths at the edge of the scales that appear to have no sensory function. Trait expression varies within as well as among populations of P. sphenops, but is not linked to male body size polymorphism. In mate choice experiments, female P. sphenops exhibited a visual mating preference for males with mustaches, suggesting that the trait may be sexually selected. Since the mating behavior of P. sphenops involves contact of the male’s snout and the female genital region prior to copulation, we hypothesize that the mustache may also convey tactile signals to the female.