Sing a Song of Fitness

Can science explain why rock stars always get the girls?

08-01-2002 // Laura Tangley

Can science explain why rock stars always get the girls?

Among birds at least, biologists have long known that females of many species prefer to mate with flashy males--those that wear the brightest colors, sport the longest tails or sing the longest, loudest songs. Some scientists believe that such characteristics may help females choose the healthiest mates.

To test the hypothesis, scientists from Johns Hopkins University assessed the singing skills of 16 male European starlings in an outdoor aviary in Baltimore, then challenged the birds' immune systems. They found that starlings that sang both the longest songs and the most songs an hour were indeed more resistant to disease than were weaker singers. Says psychologist and study coauthor Deborah Duffy, "Choosy females benefit by mating with males with the strongest immune systems because presumably their offspring inherit some of that high immunocompetence."

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