Like father, like son—sexy fathers can give rise
to sexy sons in the insect world.
Researchers suggest these findings might also apply to
Males often give showy displays to attract females in
the animal kingdom—from cricket songs to peacock
plumes. Scientists had long assumed that attractive
males can father attractive sons, but hard evidence
supporting this idea is actually scant.
To see if attractiveness
can be hereditary, researchers in England
focused on the fruit fly Drosophila simulans. Males of
the species cannot force sex, meaning any mating that
happens is because of male charisma.
First, the scientists paired male and female flies at
random. They found the length of time it took for them
to have sex ranged from two minutes to two hours. The
speed at which mating occurred suggests how attractive
the males were.
After each male mated with roughly three females, their
sons were paired with single females, and the amount of
time it took them to score was noted. The investigators
found that attractive males indeed sired attractive sons.
"Attractiveness probably can't
be defined by individual characteristics, so there
is no single physical attribute that female fruit flies
are looking for in a mate," said researcher David
Hosken, an evolutionary biologist at the University of
Exeter in England. "However, there is clearly a benefit
to females in having sexy sons that are more likely to
attract a mate and produce offspring."
It is possible that attractiveness is hereditable across
the animal kingdom, Hosken said.
"It could even be the case in humans that the sexiest
dads also have the most desirable sons, which would probably
be bad news for my boy," he quipped.
may not always prove hereditary in insects and other animals.
"In the closely related standard lab fly, Drosophila
melanogaster, there is no sons effect," Hosken told
"Extrapolating from one species to another closely
related species should be done with caution. Knowing lots
about one species may tell you little about another."
Hosken with Michelle Taylor and Nina Wedell detailed
their work in the Nov. 20 issue of the journal Current