In the eye of the beholder: Visual mate choice lateralization in a polymorphic songbird

Jennifer J. Templeton*, D. James Mountjoy, Sarah R. Pryke, Simon C. Griffith

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Birds choose mates on the basis of colour, song and body size, but little is known about the mechanisms underlying these mating decisions. Reports that zebra finches prefer to view mates with the right eye during courtship, and that immediate early gene expression associated with courtship behaviour is lateralized in their left hemisphere suggest that visual mate choice itself may be lateralized. To test this hypothesis, we used the Gouldian finch, a polymorphic species in which individuals exhibit strong, adaptive visual preferences for mates of their own head colour. Black males were tested in a mate-choice apparatus under three eye conditions: leftmonocular, right-monocular and binocular. We found that black male preference for black females is so strongly lateralized in the right-eye/left-hemisphere system that if the right eye is unavailable, males are unable to respond preferentially, not only to males and females of the same morph, but also to the strikingly dissimilar female morphs. Courtship singing is consistent with these lateralized mate preferences; more black males sing to black females when using their right eye than when using their left. Beauty, therefore, is in the right eye of the beholder for these songbirds, providing, to our knowledge, the first demonstration of visualmate choice lateralization.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)924-927
Number of pages4
JournalBiology Letters
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 23 Dec 2012

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