Project Overview

Neoteny in the Female Zebra Finch: Honest Signal or Masterful Manipulation?

Faculty Sponsor

Carrie Keating (




Neoteny is the mimicry of pedomorphic traits and behavior (Puts, 2010; Shea, 1989). In the truly young, these aspects normally cue approach and caregiving, and forecast the behavioral tendencies of appeasement and submission. The mimicry of these signals may help protect adult females from aggression by mates and other conspecifics. Neoteny also lends an appearance of youthfulness and an extended reproductive future, appealing qualities in a mate. In humans, neoteny overlaps with “feminine” appearances and attractiveness in human females across cultures (Jones, 1995; Keating, 2002). Thus, both natural selection and sexual selection are likely to be at play in the phylogeny and ontogeny of neoteny in humans and other species. Females of all sorts of species have been selected for neotenous appearances, and female birds are especially famous for it. But are these honest signals or a form of trickery? That is, are neotenous appearances in females predictive of submissive, appeasing behavioral traits as they are in juveniles or a disguise deployed by adult females that belies a more assertive nature? To address these questions, we propose to record and analyze mate choice and dominance in captive Zebra finches who vary in the expression of neoteny. These birds display a distinct cue signaling reproductive maturity; beak coloration, which changes from black to orange with underlying hormonal changes. For all that is known about these birds, mate choice in Zebra finches has recently been described as seemingly quixotic, its patterns hard to detect (Roberts, 2015).


Student Qualifications

Research methods, interest and ability to work with birds, familiarity with search engines, data bases, SPSS.

Number of Student Researchers

1 student

Project Length

10 weeks

Applications open on 01/05/2018 and close on 02/05/2018

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If you have questions, please contact Karyn Belanger (