SoT 113: A Brain The Size Of A Pea

Download Now!Hosts: Ed Brown, Penny Dumsday, Kate Naughton.

Topics covered:

What a Peahen Really Watches When a Peacock Tries to Impress Her

Researchers Find More Evidence That Dolphins Use Names

Fake memory implanted in mice with a beam of light

Getting a Head: How Worms Regenerate Lost Tissue

Introducing “Imperceptibly” Thin Electronics

A peacock fans its tail to try and impress a peahen, but she's not interested. A new study investigated what does impress peahens, and it comes down to, well, size. Image: ToastyKen / WikiMedia Commons
A peacock fans its tail to try and impress a peahen, but she’s not interested.
A new study investigated what does impress peahens, and it comes down to, well, size.
Image: ToastyKen / WikiMedia Commons

Kate Naughton is a geneticist and marine biologist.

Download here. Duration: [0:33:13]

  • rogerw

    I enjoyed the segment on research into the attractiveness of the peacock’s tail but I feel that you (and Darwin) missed a major point. The peacock’s tail, although a bit unwieldy, is a fantastic defensive weapon. The idea that the male demonstrates fitness to the peahen by putting up with a larger burden, is wrong in my view. I have observed that when threatened, the peacock puts up its tails, shakes it so that it makes a rattling sound and advances. The predator is exposed to a huge wall of eyes coming at it, making a strange sound and often retreats. It is a very effective defence for a bird the size of a large chicken.
    The peahen seems quite sensibly to be choosing the mate with the best defence for her and her brood and hence the effectiveness of the defence (ie size and sound of the wall eyes) is what she cares about. I dont think is is an example of sexual selection for its own sake as is often implied. A better example of that are the birds of paradise of PNG, where the display plumage appears to serve no other practical function.

    • Great point, rogerw! We were so focused on the sexual selection aspect we completely missed the defensive aspect of the plumage. What you’re describing makes perfect sense, thanks for pointing it out!

    • What rogerw said, although I suspect rogerw is really a Peacock who broke into a zookeeper’s office to point out Peacocks and Peahens aren’t as pea-brained as Penny implied. :p