Peacocks no longer victims of evolution

CC BY 2.0 Madison Berndt/Flickr

Peacocks have long been considered the joke of evolution - their trains are glorious, but would get in the way if a leopard suddenly felt hungry. In many a biology class they have served as an example of natural selection favoring reproduction over an individual's survival.

A new study from the University of Leeds has changed our understanding of these birds.

"Intuitively you expect that the train would detrimentally affect flight performance," Dr Askew, one of the lead scientists, said in a press release. "These birds do not seem to be making quite the sacrifices to look attractive we thought they were. These results therefore have broader ramifications for evolutionary biology's understanding of sexual selection."

The train, which can stretch almost 5 feet (1.5 meters), grows during breeding season and then molts off. Considering that they have more than 150 feathers and that each feather weighs about 10.5 ounces (300 grams), it's hard to imagine how the train wouldn't have much of an impact on flight.

But when scientists studied videos of peacocks taking flight with and without the train, they found that peacocks' wing motions, power used to accelerate and center of mass stayed almost the same.

These findings will change how peacock evolution is considered, though more studies will need to be done to further understand the impact of train feathers.

"There could be other costs associated with possessing a train," Askew told Huffington Post, "such as the energy invested in producing the feathers (about 3% of their daily energy budget), changes in maneuverability, and a potential cost of making the birds more conspicuous to predators."

Peacocks no longer victims of evolution
Turns out those long feathers aren't such a drag.