High-Bandwidth Version
Search Evolution  
Click to return to the Evolution Home Page
darwin change extinction survival sex humans religion
The Mating Game

Introduction | Round 1 | Round 2 | Round 3 | Round 4 | Round 5 | Mating Gallery

Round 3

Meet the contestant:
Elizabeth, the sage grouse
(Centrocercus urophasianus)

Host: I'd like all of you to welcome Elizabeth, who comes to us today from eastern Montana. She's taken time out from her search for a mate amongst the sagebrush plains to try her luck on The Mating Game. Elizabeth, it says in your bio that you've spent some time looking for a mate at your local lek. Hmm, sounds interesting. What is a lek, anyway?

Elizabeth: Well, I live in Montana on the eastern high plains. I'm four years old and have enjoyed two fairly successful breeding seasons so far, but this year I'm really looking for the cream of the crop, the best male genes I can find, in order to give my offspring the best possible chance in the world.

So that's where the lek comes in. You see, there's this high point near my home, called a lek, where all of the available males congregate by the hundreds to strut their stuff. They puff up and spar and vocalize, all to try to attract some female attention. And believe me, we're attracted! We patrol the boundary of the lek, keeping an eye out for the most attractive, most impressive male. I'm always on the lookout for the best genes I can find!

Host: Sounds a lot like The Mating Game, Elizabeth! You should do well here. Just keep in mind that sage grouse aren't the only creatures to use these mate selection arenas you call leks. So be careful how you interpret the bachelors' answers.

Okay, Elizabeth, you know the drill. Begin when you're ready.

The game:

Question 1:

What would your past mates say are your best and worst qualities?

Bachelor #1: 

Probably my ability to defend a territory by intimidating those around me. And if you ask friends of mine outside my species, they might say my worst quality is my face.

Bachelor #2: 

I think I've become better at defending a territory as I've gotten older and wiser, but it always seems that my plumage is a little sparse compared to other males.

Bachelor #3: 

My white facial markings and striking eye rings have always been my best traits. Some would say that I'm not the most respected individual among my peers. But I'm working on it. At eight years old, I'm still pretty young.

Question 2:

What do you see happening between us in the long-term?

Bachelor #1: 

I see the two of us staying very close physically, but not maintaining anything really different than what I share with other members of my cohort.

Bachelor #2: 

I think this can be amicable -- kind of like a business transaction. But if you're asking if you'll be the only one for me, I'd rather not respond to that.

Bachelor #3: 

I don't spend much time with females after the breeding season. The division between the sexes seems to work pretty well for everyone. Females don't want us around any more than we want to be around them.

Question 3:

What might you do to convince me that you're the one for me?

Bachelor #1: 

Maintaining my territory is critical, but then I know I'll wow you with my display. I sing these beautiful raspy notes and beat my wings in unison with the song. I'm not trying to boast, but you really should see it.

Bachelor #2: 

My position in the lek will be all it takes to knock you off your feet. Last year, I was shoved to the edge by a couple of males working together. I have a better strategy this year and I know I'm going to be near the center.

Bachelor #3: 

Well, it pays to look good, but I have to agree with my fellow panelists, it's all about position. I have a special spot on my breeding territory all picked out. And if not this year, my time will come.

The choice:

Host: Okay, Elizabeth. I know this is a difficult choice for you. They all sound so alike, so suitable, don't they? But maybe you have some insights. So take a minute to review the bachelors' answers. Then, when you're ready, click on a curtain to reveal your mystery date.

Elizabeth has selected Bachelor Number One, a very exciting choice. And we're going to meet the lucky bachelor in just a minute. First, though, let's meet the bachelors you passed up, shall we?

Meet the bachelors:

Host: This is always so hard for me. Elizabeth, I'm afraid I have to introduce you right off the bat -- no pun intended -- to Ben, a sage grouse just like yourself. He actually comes from North Park, Colorado, a habitat similar to your own. Ben considers himself an up-and-comer in his community. He's bred successfully only twice in his four years, but his status and position within the lek are steadily improving -- that will surely have promising reproductive consequences for him in the future. For your time, Ben, we'd like to send you home with a plumage care kit. A little help in the grooming department could be all you need to attract a good female.

It's probably just as well that you didn't end up with Bachelor Number Two, Tad, an eight-year-old Uganda kob. Do you even know what a kob is, Elizabeth? We didn't either. A kob is a species of African antelope, which means you and Tad don't have too much in common. You do, however, live in very similar open, sparsely vegetated habitats, and members of both your species use leks during courtship in search of that perfect mate to help produce the fittest offspring.

And now, let's meet Elizabeth's mystery date. David is a six-year-old hammer-headed fruit bat from near the Black Volta River of West Africa. He's a member of the largest bat species in Africa. Male hammer-headed fruit bats have hammer-shaped heads, large lips, and strong singing voices. Like sage grouse, male hammer-head fruit bats congregate in leks by the hundreds, hanging upside down in trees and defending their small breeding territories with harsh cries and violent wing beating. Not quite your cup of tea, eh, Elizabeth? I doubt you've ever even been in a tree, much less hung upside down in one! Sounds like you two won't be producing any offspring together, but we hope you'll enjoy your all-expenses-paid trip to Acapulco, Mexico. Have a great time!

-> Go to Round 4

Introduction | Round 1 | Round 2 | Round 3 | Round 4 | Round 5 | Mating Gallery

  related web activities  
Is Love in Our DNA?
Did evolution shape your taste in a mate? Take our poll.
The Advantage of Sex
Why did sex evolve? The likely answers may surprise you.
Sex and the Single Guppy
Learn how exhibitionism has an evolutionary payoff.
  related topics  
  Adaptation and Natural Selection  
  Evolution of Diversity  
  Why Evolution Matters  
Videos Web Activities Site Guide About the Project FAQ Glossary Site Map Feedback Help Shop