What Females Want

Part One: What Females Want | Part Two: What Males Will Do

Female jumping spiders will attack and eat anything that moves. This often includes males who may be courting them. So, if a male falls short in convincing a female that he will be a good mate, he may become lunch. This is a compelling reason for males to work hard in perfecting their courtship dances.

In the mating game, it is not always “do or die,” but the penalties can be severe, and there is no single tried and true approach when it comes to the fascinating strategy of attracting a mate. Charles Darwin called it “sexual selection.” NATURE is calling it What Females Want and Males Will Do for love — a two-part miniseries about sexual selection.

What Females Want and Males Will Do explores the evolution of sexual strategies and what makes certain species winners and losers in the mating game. Courtship drives evolution by controlling whose genes are passed on to the next generation, and intense competition gives rise to a wide array of dazzling displays and impressive ornamentation.

From spiders that dance and monkeys that drum in the name of love, to female geladas that seek male partners with hot, red chest patches — this program about sexual selection explores the unique behaviors and special adaptations that determine how animals pick their mates, and how these selections affect future generations. In some species, the normal rules of mating are turned on their head, such as the feisty female topi antelope champing at the bit to have sex with an aloof male or bonobo males practicing free love.

Scientists around the world are making amazing new discoveries about the complex nature of courtship and competition throughout the animal kingdom. It’s sexual education that takes us way beyond the “birds and the bees.”

Part One: What Females Want — In the animal world females often call the shots. But their decisions may be surprising. In an effort to understand the mating game, NATURE follows biologist Chadden Hunter, PhD, through the Simien Mountains of northern Ethiopia, as he observes a troop of geladas, close cousins of baboons. He found that in gelada society females make all the decisions about mating, even though males are twice their size. The males are evaluated on everything from body heat to baby sitting skills. And once selected, no male gelada can ever rest on his laurels. Another male is always auditioning for his job.

You’ll also see female barn swallows that choose a male by the color of his chest and encounter a robotic sage grouse that is helping researchers learn about this species’ elaborate courtship displays.

To order a copy of What Females Want and Males Will Do, please visit the NATURE Shop.

Online content for What Females Want was originally posted April 2008.

  • Rodezzy

    I loved the program, it was very interesting as all of your nature shows are. Love them all.

  • Virginia Keating

    Regarding the fembot segment: It occurred to me that the male grouse displays chest patches during his courtship dance. Could that be similar to the chest patches displayed on the geladas? Maybe it has nothing to do with sound or frequency, but in the amount of bare skin the grouse shows while performing. Just a thought….

  • cw

    The best part of this eppisode is Chadden’s names for the Geladas: Chewbacca, Mad Max, Scarface, Elvis, Homer, Don King(!), Gomez, etc. Great names for monkeys.

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    From some earlier reading about Furbush, it looks like his changeup needs some work which would help against the platoon split.

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