Dark eyes in female sand gobies indicate readiness to spawn

Karin H. Olsson, Sandra Johansson, Eva Lotta Blom, Kai Lindström, Ola Svensson, Helen Nilsson Sköld, Charlotta Kvarnemo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In animals, colorful and conspicuous ornaments enhance individual attractiveness to potential mates, but are typically tempered by natural selection for crypsis and predator protection. In species where males compete for females, this can lead to highly ornamented males competing for mating opportunities with choosy females, and vice versa. However, even where males compete for mating opportunities, females may exhibit conspicuous displays. These female displays are often poorly understood and it may be unclear whether they declare mating intent, signal intrasexual aggression or form a target for male mate preference. We examined the function of the conspicuous dark eyes that female sand gobies temporarily display during courtship by experimentally testing if males preferred to associate with females with artificially darkened eyes and if dark eyes are displayed during female aggression. By observing interactions between a male and two females freely associating in an aquarium we also investigated in which context females naturally displayed dark eyes. We found that dark eyes were more likely to be displayed by more gravid females than less gravid females and possibly ahead of spawning, but that males did not respond behaviorally to dark eyes or prefer dark-eyed females. Females behaving aggressively did not display dark eyes. We suggest that dark eyes are not a signal per se but may be an aspect of female mate choice, possibly related to vision.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0177714
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2017
Externally publishedYes


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