Pigmentation patterns can be used as a communication signal in a variety of taxa, and can convey information relative to sexual selection, dominance, and species identification. Pigmentation is also sometimes used in mimicry to deceive the signal receiver into thinking the signaler is something other than itself. Mimicry can occur in several contexts, including sexual interactions, where one sex mimics another. There are relatively few examples of species with females that mimic males. Proposed hypotheses to explain female mimicry of males are that mimicry is used to reduce male harassment or that mimicry is used to display dominance over other females. In this study, we tested these two hypotheses using an experimental approach. Researchers have hypothesized that Brachyrhaphis fishes provide an example of sexual mimicry because females have pigmentation of the same coloration and shape, and in the same location as male genitalia. To test if female mimicry of males reduces male harassment, we designed an experiment to observe male preference for females with and without male-like pigmentation. To test the effect that female mimicry of males has on female dominance, we observed female behavior based on the pigmentation patterns of companion females. We found that neither of these hypotheses was supported by our data. We conclude that similarities in anal fin pigmentation between male and female Brachyrhaphis fishes cannot be explained as a way to reduce male harassment of females and is not a good predictor of female dominance interactions. Alternative explanations must exist for this pattern of anal fin coloration include the possibility that these similarities are simply non-adaptive.



College and Department

Life Sciences; Biology



Date Submitted


Document Type





mimicry, Brachyrhaphis, pigmentation, Poeciliidae, sexual signal

Included in

Biology Commons