Permanent female mimics in a lekking shorebird

Biol Lett. 2006 Jun 22;2(2):161-4. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2005.0416.


Female mimics are known from many species, but permanent, non-conditional, alternative mating strategies are only known from an isopod, a fish, a lizard and a bird. The single bird example refers to lek-breeding ruffs Philomachus pugnax, a shorebird for which two strategies (independent and satellite) have been known for over 50 years. Ruffs also provided the single case of an animal with two, rather than three, permanent alternative mating strategies. Here, we describe a rare female-like morph of ruffs: the 'missing' third alternative mating strategy, which we have called 'faeder'. Faeders are slightly larger than females and in late April have testes 2.5 time the size of testes of normal males. On leks in aviaries and in the wild they appear to combine feminine and masculine behaviours. Faeders may represent the ancestral, care-giving, male strategy, but their relatively large testes suggest that currently they behave as sneakers.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Charadriiformes / anatomy & histology*
  • Feathers / anatomy & histology*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Mating Preference, Animal*
  • Testis / anatomy & histology*
  • Wings, Animal / anatomy & histology