Male peacocks, with their beautiful feathers, have long performed a special dancing ritual to catch a female’s eye. Their ability to procreate depends on this dance, and it’s not as simple as just shaking their rear ends. The dance has been more closely examined and scientists have discovered the secret behind their success, The Christian Science Monitor reported April 28.
The secret lies in the feathers’ vivid circles, which resemble brightly colored eyes. During the dance these eyespots are able to appear almost stationary even though the rest of the feather is moving rapidly. This movement creates a blurry green background with still colored eyes that can be hypnotic when in the full view of a female. Researchers found that peacocks that are able to make their eyespots more iridescent are more successful at finding a mate.
What gives the eyes the ability to stand still while everything shakes around them? When put under a microscope, researchers found that the eyespots are denser than the surrounding feather. They contain special micro hooks that are able to keep the eyes in place while the rest of the feather is in motion. These trail feathers are not only a visual performance but a musical one as well. The shaking feathers resonate at a special frequency that females can hear. The special sound is unique to each male and varies depending on the physical properties of their feathers. While researchers have a greater understanding of what the male is doing during the mating ritual, they still debate as to what exactly the female is looking for.
“It could be that the males with the most powerful muscles perform the best displays. Or, it could be that males with the best endurance, or the most energy to spend, perform the best. Yet another possibility is that the peahens don’t really care about vibration – maybe it gets their attention, but they don’t use it when deciding who to mate with,” Roslyn Dakin, the author of the study, told The Christian Science Monitor. “It could all just be noise, as Darwin suggested.”
The study’s researchers are calling for deeper examinations into the mating ritual to better understand why females prefer some males over others.