Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries 9: 203–207, 1999.
Sex, Color, and Mate Choice in Guppies (Mono-
graphs in Behavior and Ecology). Anne E. Houde.
Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1997. ISBN
0-691-02789-7 (p/b, £14.95, US$19.95; also available
in cloth, ISBN 0-691-02790-0). Soft cover, acid-free
paper, pp. xii + 210, 6 tables, 52 ﬁgures. Extensive list
of references; author, subject and taxonomic indexes.
The guppy (Poecilia reticulata, Poeciliidae) has been
the focus of numerous studies in sexual selection, mate
choice, reproductive biology and ecological genetics
over the last 70 years. Many new ideas in evolutionary
biology and behavioural ecology have been generated
as a result of this work. Collectively, we have been
studying wild guppies for 18 years and were very
familiar with the literature on them when we received
our copies of Anne Houde’s book. Nevertheless, we
immediately adopted her book as our guppy ‘bible’. It
is a comprehensive review of both the published litera-
ture and of on-going research by workers in the ﬁeld.
Houde provides a thorough background on what has
become a model system for studies of textual selec-
tion, life history evolution and antipredator behaviour.
She also uses the guppy literature as a springboard to
discuss critical issues in sexual selection which need
to be addressed in the study of any organism.
The ﬁrst chapter introduces the reader to the
genetics, ecology, behaviour and morphology (includ-
ing the now-famous variation in male colour patterns)
of the species, and how geographic variation in
these traits makes guppies such a useful organism for
studying evolutionary questions. Chapter 2 concen-
trates on reproduction (morphology, physiology and
behaviour) in guppies as background for later chap-
ters. Chapters 3 and 4 outline the different sexual
strategies adopted by each sex and how they relate
to sexual selection. We noticed that sperm competi-
tion is one topic not included in the book; however,
there still is not much literature on sperm competi-
tion in guppies. In Chapters 5–7, clear and thorough
descriptions of the models of sexual selection and the
evolution of mate choice are provided.
In these ﬁnal chapters, assumptions and predic-
tions of contrasting models (Fisherian, good genes,
handicap, and sensory drive) are compared, and the
guppy literature relating to these models is reviewed.
The review is even-handed and unusually clear. The
clarity is welcome because, as the author makes
evident, predictions of different models often overlap,
and the empirical results almost always have multiple
interpretations. No true consensus arises supporting
one or another model. However, some consisten-
cies are emerging from studies conducted in different
laboratories and using different populations. For
example, one consistent pattern is a positive among-
population correlation of female preference and male
coloration. Unfortunately, this pattern does not allow
us to distinguish between the competing models.
At the practical level, this book would be
extremely valuable to anyone studying or planning
to study guppies and/or sexual selection. It provides
excellent background information, compares standard
experimental designs used in mate choice experi-
ments, identiﬁes areas in sexual selection needing
further study, and provides examples of speciﬁc
experiments that should be done. We have given
copies of this book to several undergraduate thesis
students, and all have commented upon how much
they enjoyed the book and how quickly they were able
to ﬁnd topics of interest and to plan their experiments.
The monograph is well organized and easy to read.
The tables and ﬁgures are clear and our only disap-
pointment with the book is that it does not have more
In conclusion, Sex, Color, and Mate Choice in
Guppies is an excellent source of speciﬁc information
for experts interested in sexual selection and behaviour
in guppies. It is also a compendium of useful case
studies for those with general interests in evolution
and animal behaviour. We can also recommend Anne