Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 64, Issue 11, pp 1849–1855 | Cite as

A novel, sexually selected trait in poeciliid fishes: female preference for mustache-like, rostral filaments in male Poecilia sphenops

  • Ingo SchluppEmail author
  • Rüdiger Riesch
  • Michael Tobler
  • Martin Plath
  • Jakob Parzefall
  • Manfred Schartl
Original Paper


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.


Mate choice Mating preference Sexual selection Structural ornaments 



We thank Marion Döbler, Kay Körner, and Dunja Lamatsch for their help in the field. Jens Poschadel helped with laboratory analyses and experiments. Ellen McCoy performed parts of the video playback experiment, and Anne Hansen kindly performed electron microscopy. We thank William Matthews for discussion. Nathan Franssen made the map in Fig. 2. Financial support came from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, the University of Oklahoma, and the Swiss National Science Foundation.

Ethical note

The experiments comply with the current laws of the country in which they were performed.

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ingo Schlupp
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Rüdiger Riesch
    • 1
  • Michael Tobler
    • 3
  • Martin Plath
    • 4
  • Jakob Parzefall
    • 2
  • Manfred Schartl
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of ZoologyUniversity of OklahomaNormanUSA
  2. 2.Biozentrum GrindelUniversity of HamburgHamburgGermany
  3. 3.Departments of Biology and Wildlife and Fisheries SciencesTexas A&M UniversityCollege StationUSA
  4. 4.Department of Ecology and EvolutionJ.W. Goethe University of FrankfurtFrankfurt a.M.Germany
  5. 5.Physiological Chemistry IUniversity of WürzburgWürzburgGermany

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