Male coloration reveals different components of immunocompetence in ostriches, Struthio camelus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


It has been suggested that secondary sexual ornamentation signals male ability to resist infections, as only high-quality individuals are able to invest both in high immune defence and elaborate ornament expression. Such ornaments could thus serve as indicators of male quality and could be used by females in choosing mates. Ostriches are sexually dimorphic with regard to coloration of their feathers, bill, neck and legs, and have a promiscuous mating system, with a high degree of reproductive skew, particularly in males. We investigated the relationship between the coloration of the feathers, bill, neck and legs of 15 male ostriches, maintained in a breeding flock, and the cell-mediated (measured using a phytohaemagglutinin (PHA) injection) and humoral components of their immune systems, as well as their heterophil: lymphocyte ratio. We found that male responses to PHA injection and humoral responses to tetanus were predicted by leg coloration, humoral responses to diphtheria were predicted by white feather coloration, and the heterophil: lymphocyte ratio was related to bill coloration. These traits, which relate to male immune capacity, are exposed during male-male interactions and courtship display, so we suggest that these visual cues could provide valuable information on male quality to females (as well as rival males), forming the basis of mate choice in this species. (C) 2009 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Biological Sciences


  • male coloration, immunocompetence, ostrich, spectrophotometry, sexual selection, Struthio camelus
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1033-1039
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2009
Publication categoryResearch