Understanding Evolution

Sexual selection

Male peacock display
Redback spiders courting
Male elephant seals fighting
Female cricket with sperm-packet

Sexual selection is a "special case" of natural selection. Sexual selection acts on an organism's ability to obtain (often by any means necessary!) or successfully copulate with a mate.

Selection makes many organisms go to extreme lengths for sex: peacocks (top left) maintain elaborate tails, elephant seals (top right) fight over territories, fruit flies perform dances, and some species deliver persuasive gifts. After all, what female Mormon cricket (bottom right) could resist the gift of a juicy sperm-packet? Going to even more extreme lengths, the male redback spider (bottom left) literally flings itself into the jaws of death in order to mate successfully.

Sexual selection is often powerful enough to produce features that are harmful to the individual's survival. For example, extravagant and colorful tail feathers or fins are likely to attract predators as well as interested members of the opposite sex.


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Peacock image courtesy of Rock Maple Farm; Elephant seals image courtesy of Craig's Homepage; Mormon cricket image courtesy of Grasshoppers of Wyoming and the West; Redback spiders image courtesy of Andrew Mason, University of Toronto at Scarborough

Understanding Evolution © 2018 by The University of California Museum of Paleontology, Berkeley, and the Regents of the University of California