Has Nadine Dorries got the wrong species?

Ecuador-192Nadine Dorries has withdrawn her bill to promote abstinence in sex education. Perhaps she would have had better luck if she had gone after boobies. Male blue-footed boobies. Two blue-footed boobies are shown in the picture above.

There is a nice blog post with an embedded National Geographic clip on abstinence in male blue-footed boobies, which is where I saw this. The clip is based on the excellently named paper Senescing sexual ornaments recover after a sabbatical by Velando et al. Basically, they show that abstinence, in the sense of not breeding in one year, increases a male blue-footed booby’s chance of breeding successfully the following year. In this sense, abstinence is good for the male blue-footed booby.

The reason appears to be that as both parents invest a lot in rearing their chicks in one year, the next year the male blue-footed booby is a bit run down and knackered by the energy he has put into raising his chicks.  Then he looks a less impressive potential mate – his blue feet are less blue – and so is less likely to attract a mate. See here for a blue-footed booby dance set to music. The study of Velando et al. looked at this effect in middle-aged blue-footed boobies, who apparently struggle to put energy into both rearing chicks and keeping their striking blue feet in tip-top condition.

It is a nice study, they even used the spectrometer to measure the blue-ness of the birds’ feet. Anyway, enough of the interesting science, sadly I have to get back to a pile of exam marking.