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Abstract

We tested the mating preference of female sailfin mollies (Poecilia latipinna) by presenting them with pairs of dummy males differing in: (I) sailfin and body size together (holding sailfin : body size ratio constant); (II) body size alone (holding sailfin size constant); (III) sailfin size alone (holding body size constant); and (IV) sailfin : body size ratio (holding total lateral projection area constant). Females spent more time near dummies of greater sailfin or greater body size. The preference functions based on the first three sets of stimuli showed a similar pattern: the preference between any two simultaneously presented dummies increased with the magnitude of the discrepancy in lateral projection area (LPA) between them. However, when LPA was held constant in expt (IV), neither body size, sailfin size, nor any particular dummy (i.e. any particular sailfin + body size combination) was preferred. These findings suggest that increased LPA is more stimulating to sexually receptive females and that females consequently prefer larger males. The sailfin may therefore have evolved as a way for males to exploit this sensory bias and appear larger to prospective mates.