Sexual Selection: The Handicap Principle


January 15, 2024


Author/Student: Hannah Daniele

For my unessay project, I created two paper mache masks of mandrills (Mandrillus sphinx); one being an alpha or dominant male and the other being a non-alpha or subordinate male. This project had a goal to convey the handicap principle to viewers which was achieved by displaying variation in colors of each mandrill’s distinct features. Zahavi’s handicap principle proposes that females prefer males with characters that reduce survival because they indicate heritable viability. The cost of possessing secondary sexual traits is the mechanism that proves quality because only high-quality individuals are able to endure the amount of physical and social stress that come along with those extreme displays of sexual traits. In order for mandrills to maximize their fitness in changing environments, they must deal with trade-offs between growth, reproduction, and maintenance. The highest alpha males with the highest testosterone levels will have the brightest, most contrasting colors of the skin, more specifically the muzzle where the blue skin is supported by ridged bone swellings and the red coloration is created by blood vessels near the surface of the skin, the rump and areas around the genitals. The males below him, will have considerably more muted colors and lower testosterone levels. As competition is fierce among this population, the most brilliantly colored male will make more of an impression on females, which allows for better selection of mates and successful production of offspring. Despite the advantages that these vividly colored males have, they may be subject to disadvantages.

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