Male Drosophila melanogaster learn to prefer an arbitrary trait associated with female mating status

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Although males are generally less discriminating than females when it comes to choosing a mate, they still benefit from distinguishing between mates that are receptive to courtship and those that are not, in order to avoid wasting time and energy. It is known that males of Drosophila melanogaster are able to learn to associate olfactory and gustatory cues with female receptivity, but the role of more arbitrary, visual cues in mate choice learning has been overlooked to date in this species. We therefore carried out a series of experiments to determine: 1) whether males had a baseline preference for female eye color (red versus brown), 2) if males could learn to associate an eye color cue with female receptivity, and 3) whether this association disappeared when the males were unable to use this visual cue in the dark. We found that naive males had no baseline preference for females of either eye color, but that males which were trained with sexually receptive females of a given eye color showed a preference for that color during a standard binary choice experiment. The learned cue was indeed likely to be truly visual, since the preference disappeared when the binary choice phase of the experiment was carried out in darkness. This is, to our knowledge 1) the first evidence that male D. melanogaster can use more arbitrary cues and 2) the first evidence that males use visual cues during mate choice learning. Our findings suggest that that D. melanogaster has untapped potential as a model system for mate choice learning.


  • Machteld N. Verzijden
  • Jessica Abbott
  • Anne C. von Philipsborn
  • Volker Loeschcke
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Evolutionary Biology


  • Mate choice, Learning, Male, Drosophila, Visual trait
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1036-1042
JournalCurrent Zoology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Publication categoryResearch