In previous mate choice experiments, female red jungle fowl, Gallus gallus, preferred males with long, bright red combs, red eyes, and (in one case) long tail feathers. When the colour and/or length of the comb was manipulated experimentally by placing artificial Latex combs over the natural ones, hens seemed to ignore the manipulated character and focused instead on traits such as hackle feather colour that had been secondary in importance in previous mate choice tests conducted with unmanipulated birds, but not as much so as the comb or eye characters. Similar results were obtained when tail length was experimentally lengthened or shortened. Rather than using only one or two traits as criteria of choice, females may rely on an additive or redundant suite of characters, with each providing part of the information used in making mate choice decisions.
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We thank the many assistants who helped run mate choice trials and care for the birds, especially Rhonda Germano, David Keller, and Carlos Blanco Montero. John T. Rotenberry and James Malcolm provided useful advice and discussion. Two anonymous referees also provided valuable comments. This research was funded by an NSF grant to R.T., J.D.L. and M.Z. (BSR 88-18336).