Man in pink or man in green? – on fruit flies following trends

Do you pay attention to fashion trends? Do you like to behave as others do? Or do you prefer to act contrary to what’s hip? Or simply ignore fashion and make your own independent decisions?

And would you like to find out whether female fruit flies follow trends and choose mates that are similar to those most popular among other females? If so, read on.

Researchers marked male fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) with green- or pink-coloured dust and let females watch other females mate with males of different colours.

If most of the observed females reject green males and mated with pink ones, the observing females preferred a pink male over a green one afterwards, and the other way around if green males were in demand instead. Female fruit flies showed conformity, that is, followed the majority opinion, even if that majority was only slight (that is even if only 4 out of 6 females choose males of a given colour).

This preference for a given colour also held when new males looked somehow different than the ones chosen by the demonstrator females, for example, were mutants with white eyes or curly wings. The colour preference was also not affected by the age of demonstrator females.

Females remembered which colour is trendy and preferred males of that colour even 24 hours after the demonstration (the researchers didn’t test longer memory). If the observer females became mate-choice demonstrators to naïve females, the fashion for a given colour was maintained for several steps in this transmission chain.

All these results show that fruit flies show cognitive abilities and dispositions to transmit female mating preferences culturally, via social learning, across generations in ways that can lead to potentially long-lasting traditions in mate preference. And even though it is unclear how likely fly culture is outside of controlled lab conditions, who knows, maybe the fruit flies in your kitchen have their traditions too.

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Photo: André Karwath aka Aka — Travail personnel, CC BY-SA 2.5,


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