“When a golden pheasant cock displays his brilliant plumage before the hen, we are accustomed to say he is courting her. Just what this expression means when applied to a nonhuman animal is far from clear; the idea is so obviously anthropomorphic that zoologists have been reluctant to pursue it seriously by taking up the study of animals’ so-called ‘courtship’ activities. Yet these strange, often grotesque activities are there, like Mount Everest, and they have challenged some of us to explore them. In contrast to such clearly motivated behavior as feeding or flight from predators, the courtship postures of animals are altogether puzzling, because it is difficult to see not only what circumstances cause them but what functions they serve. —N. Tinbergen” [Editors’ note: Nikolaas Tinbergen won the 1973 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.]
—Scientific American, November 1954
More gems from Scientific American’s first 175 years can be found on our anniversary archive page.
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