Opercular flaps as sexual ornaments for male longear sunfish (Lepomis megalotis): Male condition and male-male competition


Male longear sunfish, Lepomis megalotis, have longer opercular flaps than females, and females are known to prefer males with longer flaps, suggesting that these exaggerated structures serve as sexual ornaments. We tested the hypothesis that opercular flap length is associated with body condition and is therefore potentially an honest indicator of male quality. Opercular flaps grew significantly faster than pelvic fin spines, a non-sexually selected trait, regardless of diet treatment, suggesting an advantage to having fast-growing opercular flaps. Growth indices (opercular flap growth divided by pelvic fin spine growth) of males fed a larger ration were greater than those of males fed a smaller ration, although the difference was marginally non-significant. We also tested for an effect of opercular flap length on resource holding power by manipulating flap length on pairs of males matched for body length. In an experiment where opercular flaps were clipped to different lengths, only longer original (unmanipulated) flap length was associated with a significantly greater frequency of dominance. In a corollary experiment where opercular flaps were artificially lengthened, the abnormally long-flapped males were dominant significantly more often than the 'normal' males given transparent extensions. These results indicate that the opercular flap length of male longear sunfish may serve as an honest indicator of male quality and may be used to assess the resource holding power of rival males.



Document Type




Publication Date


Journal Title