Display (zoology)

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Many male birds have brightly coloured plumage for display. This feather is from a male Indian peafowl Pavo cristatus. Feather of male Pavo cristatus (Indian peafowl).jpg
Many male birds have brightly coloured plumage for display. This feather is from a male Indian peafowl Pavo cristatus.
Sexual display by a Megaselia female.

Display behaviour is a set of ritualized behaviours that enable an animal to communicate to other animals (typically of the same species) about specific stimuli. [1] These ritualized behaviours can be visual however many animals depend on a mixture of visual, audio, tactical and/or chemical signals as well. [1] Evolution has tailored these stereotyped behaviours to allow animals to communicate both conspecifically and interspecifically which allows for a broader connection in different niches in an ecosystem. It is connected to sexual selection and survival of the species in various ways. Typically, display behaviour is used for courtship between two animals and to signal to the female that a viable male is ready to mate. [2] In other instances, species may exhibit territorial display behaviour, in order to preserve a foraging or hunting territory for its family or group. A third form is exhibited by tournament species in which males will fight in order to gain the 'right' to breed. Animals from a broad range of evolutionary hierarchies avail of display behaviours - from invertebrates such as the simple jumping spider [1] to the more complex vertebrates like the harbour seal. [3]


In animals



Communication is very important for animals all throughout the animal kingdom, even those with fairly simple nervous systems and body plans. For example, since female praying mantids are sexually cannibalistic, the male will typically avail of a concealment form of display behaviour. [2] This is a series of creeping movements executed by the male as it approaches the female with freezing of the body whenever the female looks towards the male. However, according to laboratory studies conducted by Loxton in 1979, one type of praying mantis, Ephestiasula arnoena, shows both male and female counterparts performing overt and ritualized behaviour before mating. [2] Both displayed a semaphore behaviour, meaning both displayed their front legs in a boxing fashion before the slow approach of the male from behind. [2] This semaphore display in E. arnoenaiskey in communicating between both mantids that both are ready for copulation and, by extension, the continuance of their genetic line.

Along with the display behaviour shown by the praying mantid, flies belonging to the genus Megaselia also show such behaviour. [4] Contrary to the typically female-selected mating that occurs for most organisms, these flies have females that show the display behaviour and males that choose the mate. Females have a bright orange colouring that attracts the male and also perform a series of fluttering wing movements that make the insect appear to "dance" and make the openings on their abdomens to swell in order to attract a male. [4] It is also interesting to note that there is experimental evidence that implies the female may also release pheromones that attract the male; this is an instance of chemical display behaviour that plays a large role in animal communication. [5]

This auditory courtship behavior is also seen in fruit flies like A. suspensa when they perform calling and pre-copulatory songs before mating. Both of these sounds are created by rapid flapping of the males wings. [6]


Many arachnids show ritualized displays. For example, the family Salticidae consists of jumping spiders with keen vision which results in very clear display behaviours for courting in particular. [1] Salticids are very similar in appearance to ants that live in the same area and therefore use their appearance to avoid predators. Since this similarity in appearance is so obvious, salticid spiders can use display behaviours to communicate both with members of their own species and also with members of the ants that they mimic. [1]



Birds also very commonly use display behaviours for courtship and communication. Manakin birds (in the family Pipridae) in the Amazon undergo large demonstrations of display behaviour in order to court females in the population. [7] Since males provide no other immediate benefit to females, they must undergo ritualized behaviours in order to show their fitness to possible mates; the female then uses the information she gathers from this interaction to make a decision on who she will mate with. [7] This display behaviour consists of various flight patterns, wing and colour displays, and particular vocalizations. [7] As a result of this performance, the males will be chosen by the female and reproduction will commence.


Along with invertebrates and birds, vertebrates like the harbour seal also show display behaviour. Since the harbour seal resides in an aquatic environment, the display behaviours expressed are slightly different from those seen in terrestrial mammal species . Male harbour seals show specific vocalization and diving behaviours while demonstrating such behaviours for possible mates. [3] As seals are distributed over such a large area, these display behaviours can slightly change geographically as males try to appeal to the largest number of females possible over a large geographical range. Dive displays, head flicks, and various vocalizations all work together in a display behaviour that signifies to the females in a colony that the males are ready to mate. [3]

Factors influencing display behaviour in animals

Display behaviour is a set of very conspicuous behaviours that allows for the attraction of mates but also can result in the attraction of predators. As a result, animals have certain environmental and social cues that they can use to decide when is the most beneficial time to show such behaviours; they use these triggers to minimize cost (predator avoidance) and maximize gain (mate attraction). [8] The first factor is temporal. Depending on the time of the season, animals (more specifically, tropical frogs, in this study) show strong seasonal trends in display behaviour favouring times closer to the beginning of the mating season. [8] This is plausible as this allows the most time for the attraction of a mate and the decline in calling to the end of the season is also valid because most organisms will have a mate by then and not have any need to continue such display behaviour. Depending upon the species and evolutionary histories, environmental factors such as temperature, elevation, and precipitation can affect the presence of these behaviours. [8] Along with environmental cues, social cues can also play a role in the demonstration of display behaviour. For example, aggressive display behaviour in the crayfish Orconectes virilistends to be triggered by impositions of other crayfish on previously established territory. [9] Such displays consist of a preliminary raising of claws between 4 and 5 times and if this is not sufficient to warn the other to not encroach on the territory then tactile engagement will occur. In this case, display behaviour is a preliminary step to the engagement of aggressive tactile behaviour whereas many cases of display behaviour result in the engagement of mating rituals.

In humans

Human men typically advertise their suitability as mates by signalling their status in the social hierarchy, often by acquiring wealth or fame. The Papuan big men staged elaborate feasts to show the extent of their influence and power. The potlatches of the Pacific Northwest were held for much of the same effect.

Tournament species

Male mountain gorilla Susa group, mountain gorilla.jpg
Male mountain gorilla

Tournament species in zoology are those species in which members of one sex (usually males) compete in order to mate. [10] In tournament species, the reproductive success of the small group of competition winners is predominantly higher than that of the large group of losers. [10]

Tournament species are characterized by fierce same-sex fighting. Significantly larger or better-armed individuals in these species have an advantage, but only to the competing sex. Thus, most tournament species have high sexual dimorphism. Examples of tournament species include grouse, peafowl, lions, mountain gorillas and elephant seals.

In some species, members of the competing sex come together in special display areas called leks. In other species, competition is more direct, in the form of fighting between males.

In a small number of species, females compete for males; these include species of jacana, species of phalarope, and the spotted hyena. In all these cases, the female of the species shows traits that help in same-sex battles: larger bodies, aggressiveness, territorialism. Even maintenance of a multiple-male "harem" is sometimes seen in these animals.

Most species fall on a continuum between tournament species and pair-bonding species.

See also

Related Research Articles

Sexual selection Mode of natural selection involving the choosing of and competition for mates

Sexual selection is a mode of natural selection in which members of one biological sex choose mates of the other sex to mate with, and compete with members of the same sex for access to members of the opposite sex. These two forms of selection mean that some individuals have greater reproductive success than others within a population, for example because they are more attractive or prefer more attractive partners to produce offspring. For instance, in the breeding season, sexual selection in frogs occurs with the males first gathering at the water's edge and making their mating calls: croaking. The females then arrive and choose the males with the deepest croaks and best territories. In general, males benefit from frequent mating and monopolizing access to a group of fertile females. Females can have a limited number of offspring and maximize the return on the energy they invest in reproduction.

The Coolidge effect is a biological phenomenon seen in animals, whereby males exhibit renewed sexual interest whenever a new female is introduced to have sex with, even after cessation of sex with prior but still available sexual partners. To a lesser extent, the effect is also seen among females with regard to their mates.

Courtship Period in a couples relationship which precedes their engagement and marriage

Courtship is the period of development towards an intimate relationship wherein a couple get to know each other and decide if there will be an engagement, followed by a marriage. A courtship may be an informal and private matter between two people or may be a public affair, or a formal arrangement with family approval. Traditionally, in the case of a formal engagement, it is the role of a male to actively "court" or "woo" a female, thus encouraging her to understand him and her receptiveness to a marriage proposal.

European mantis

The European mantis is a large hemimetabolic insect in the family of the Mantidae ('mantids'), which is the largest family of the order Mantodea (mantises). Their common name praying mantis is derived from the distinctive posture of the first pair of legs that can be observed in animals in repose. It resembles a praying attitude. Both males and females have elongated bodies with two pairs of wings. The most striking features that all Mantodea share are a very mobile, triangular head with large compound eyes and their first pair of legs, which is highly modified for the efficient capture and restraint of fast-moving or flying prey.


Phoca is a genus of the earless seals, within the family Phocidae. It now contains just two species, the common seal and the spotted seal. Several species formerly listed under this genus have been split into the genera Pusa, Pagophilus, and Histriophoca. Until recently, Phoca largha has been considered a subspecies of Phoca vitulina but now is considered its own species. For this reason, the fossil history of the genus is unclear, and it has formerly been used as wastebasket taxon for a number of fossils of uncertain affinity.

Animal sexual behaviour Sexual behavior of non-human animals

Animal sexual behaviour takes many different forms, including within the same species. Common mating or reproductively motivated systems include monogamy, polygyny, polyandry, polygamy and promiscuity. Other sexual behaviour may be reproductively motivated or non-reproductively motivated.

<i>Maratus volans</i>

Maratus volans is a species in the jumping spider family (Salticidae), belonging to the genus Maratus.

Mate choice

Mate choice is one of the primary mechanisms under which evolution can occur. It is characterized by a “selective response by animals to particular stimuli” which can be observed as behavior. In other words, before an animal engages with a potential mate, they first evaluate various aspects of that mate which are indicative of quality—such as the resources or phenotypes they have—and evaluate whether or not those particular trait(s) are somehow beneficial to them. The evaluation will then incur a response of some sort.

Sexual cannibalism practice when a female cannibalizes her mate prior to, during, or after copulation

Sexual cannibalism is when a female cannibalizes her mate prior to, or after copulation. It is a trait observed in many arachnid orders and several insect orders. Several hypotheses to explain this seemingly paradoxical behavior have been proposed. The adaptive foraging hypothesis, aggressive spillover hypothesis and mistaken identity hypothesis are among the proposed hypotheses to explain how sexual cannibalism evolved. This behavior is believed to have evolved as a manifestation of sexual conflict, occurring when the reproductive interests of males and females differ. In many species that exhibit sexual cannibalism, the female consumes the male upon detection. Females of cannibalistic species are generally hostile and unwilling to mate; thus many males of these species have developed adaptive behaviors to counteract female aggression.


Padogobius is a genus of fish in the family Gobiidae, the gobies. They are native to fresh waters of southern Europe.


Matutinal, matinal, and matutine are terms used in the life sciences to indicate something of, relating to, or occurring in the early morning. The term may describe crepuscular animals that are significantly active during the predawn or early morning hours. During the morning twilight period and shortly thereafter, these animals partake in important tasks, such as scanning for mates, mating, and foraging.

Courtship display

A courtship display is a set of display behaviors in which an animal, usually a male, attempts to attract a mate; the mate exercises choice, so sexual selection acts on the display. These behaviors often include ritualized movement ("dances"), vocalizations, mechanical sound production, or displays of beauty, strength, or agonistic ability.

A mating call is the auditory signal used by animals to attract mates. It can occur in males or females, but literature is abundantly favored toward researching mating calls in males. In addition, mating calls are often the subject of mate choice, in which the preferences of one gender for a certain type of mating call can drive sexual selection in a species. This can result in sympatric speciation of some animals, where two species diverge from each other while living in the same environment.

Mantis Order of insects

Mantises are an order (Mantodea) of insects that contains over 2,400 species in about 430 genera in 15 families. The largest family is the Mantidae ("mantids"). Mantises are distributed worldwide in temperate and tropical habitats. They have triangular heads with bulging eyes supported on flexible necks. Their elongated bodies may or may not have wings, but all Mantodea have forelegs that are greatly enlarged and adapted for catching and gripping prey; their upright posture, while remaining stationary with forearms folded, has led to the common name praying mantis.

Dominance signal Type of animal communication

A dominance signal is used in a dominance hierarchy or pecking order to indicate an animal's dominance. Dominance signals are a type of internal environment signal that demonstrate the signalers attributes [2]. Dominance signals are necessary for several species for mating, maintaining social hierarchies and defending territories Dominance signals also provide information about an animals fitness. Animals have developed conflict management strategies to reduce frequency of aggressive incidents in competitive matters. This evolution is the basis of dominance signals[3].

Seabird breeding behavior

The term seabird is used for many families of birds in several orders that spend the majority of their lives at sea. Seabirds make up some, if not all, of the families in the following orders: Procellariiformes, Sphenisciformes, Pelecaniformes, and Charadriiformes. Many seabirds remain at sea for several consecutive years at a time, without ever seeing land. Breeding is the central purpose for seabirds to visit land. The breeding period is usually extremely protracted in many seabirds and may last over a year in some of the larger albatrosses; this is in stark contrast with passerine birds. Seabirds nest in single or mixed-species colonies of varying densities, mainly on offshore islands devoid of terrestrial predators. However, seabirds exhibit many unusual breeding behaviors during all stages of the reproductive cycle that are not extensively reported outside of the primary scientific literature.

Female copulatory vocalizations, also called female copulation calls or coital vocalizations, are produced by female primates, including human females, and female non-primates. Copulatory vocalizations usually occur during copulation and are hence related to sexual activity. Vocalizations that occur before intercourse, for the purpose of attracting mates, are known as mating calls.

A nuptial gift is a nutritional gift given by one partner in some animals' sexual reproduction practices.

Sexual selection in amphibians

Sexual selection in amphibians involves sexual selection processes in amphibians, including frogs, salamanders and newts. Prolonged breeders, the majority of frog species, have breeding seasons at regular intervals where male-male competition occurs with males arriving at the waters edge first in large number and producing a wide range of vocalizations, with variations in depth of calls the speed of calls and other complex behaviours to attract mates. The fittest males will have the deepest croaks and the best territories, with females known to make their mate choices at least partly based on the males depth of croaking. This has led to sexual dimorphism, with females being larger than males in 90% of species, males in 10% and males fighting for groups of females.

Sexual selection in spiders

Sexual selection in spiders shows how sexual selection explains the evolution of phenotypic traits in spiders. Male spiders have many complex courtship rituals and have to avoid being eaten by the females, with the males of most species survive a few matings, and having short life spans.


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