The turn of the sword: Length increases male swimming costs in swordtails

Alexandra L. Basolo, Guillermina Alcaraz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

113 Scopus citations


Sexual selection via female mate choice can result in the evolution of elaborate male traits that incur substantial costs for males. Despite increased interest in how female mating preferences contribute to the evolution of male traits, few studies have directly quantified the locomotor costs of such traits. A sexually selected trait that could affect movement costs is the sword exhibited by male swordtail fishes: while longer swords may increase male mating success, they could negatively affect the hydrodynamic aspects of swimming activities. Here, we examine the energetic costs of the sword in Xiphophorus montezumae by experimentally manipulating sword length and measuring male aerobic metabolism during two types of activity, routine swimming and courtship swimming. Direct measurements of oxygen consumption indicate that males with longer swords expend more energy than males with shortened swords during both types of swimming. In addition, the sword increases the cost of male courtship. Thus, while sexual selection via female choice favours long swords, males with longer swords experience higher metabolic costs during swimming, suggesting that sexual and natural selection have opposing effects on sword evolution. This study demonstrates a hydrodynamic cost of a sexually selected trait. In addition, this study discriminates between the cost of a sexually selected trait used in courtship and other courtship costs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1631-1636
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1524
StatePublished - Aug 7 2003


  • Courtship
  • Energetics
  • Locomotor costs
  • Swimming activity
  • Sword

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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