Are males turned on by sexy females? Female attractiveness upregulates male reproductive physiology and behavior in zebra finches
Testosterone (T) is a steroid hormone that affects behavior and reproductive traits (e.g. spermatogenesis and ornamentation) in vertebrates. In addition to long-term influences, T can rapidly increase in males following aggressive male-male encounters. Less is known how females directly influence male T and behavior, though research with humans suggests that sexually attractive females elicit a greater increase in male T and reproductive behavior than unattractive females. In birds, the influence of female attractiveness on male T and behavior is currently untested. We hypothesized that T and courtship behavior in male zebra finches would correlate with female attractiveness. We used red leg bands to make females "attractive" and green bands to make them "unattractive" (unbanded females were controls) as previous research suggests that zebra finches prefer red colors over green in mating contexts. We collected blood from males before and after "speed-dating" trials to measure changes in plasma T and analyzed male courtship behaviors from trial video recordings. The likelihood of plasma T increasing after a trial was significantly greater in males who were with red-banded females compared to control females, suggesting males may find them more attractive than green or control females. Additionally, independent of band color, males who exhibited greater T differences initiated courtship sooner and spent more time closest to females. However, courtship initiation and time spent near females were not correlated with band color. Overall, our results suggest that female attractiveness can influence male reproductive physiology, but the presence of a female may trigger male courtship behavior.