Male Mate Choice in the Guppy (Poecilia reticulata): Do Males Prefer Larger Females as Mates?


Jean-Guy J. Godin, Department of Biology, Carleton University, 1125 Colonel By Drive, Ottawa, ON K1S 5B6, Canada. E-mail:


Although females are the choosier sex in most species, male mate choice is expected to occur under certain conditions. Theoretically, males should prefer larger females as mates in species where female fecundity increases with body size. However, any fecundity-related benefits accruing to a male that has mated with a large female may be offset by an associated fitness cost of shared paternity if large females are more likely to be multiply mated than smaller females in nature. We tested the above hypothesis and assumption using the Trinidadian guppy (Poecilia reticulata) by behaviourally testing for male mate choice in the laboratory and by ascertaining (with the use of microsatellite DNA genotyping) patterns of male paternity in wild-caught females. We observed significant positive relationships between female body length and fecundity (brood size) and between body length and level of multiple paternity in the broods of females collected in the Quaré River, Trinidad. In laboratory tests, a preference for the larger of two simultaneously-presented virgin females was clearly expressed only when males were exposed to the full range of natural stimuli from the females, but not when they were limited to visual stimuli alone. However, as suggested by our multiple paternity data, males that choose to mate with large females may incur a larger potential cost of sperm competition and shared paternity compared with males that mate with smaller females on average. Our results thus suggest that male guppies originating from the Quaré River possess mating preferences for relatively large females, but that such preferences are expressed only when males can accurately assess the mating status of encountered females that differ in body size.