Two blue footed booby's dancing
The blue-footed booby (Sula nebouxii) is a marine bird native to subtropical and tropical regions of the Pacific Ocean. It is one of six species of the genus Sula – known as boobies. It is easily recognizable by its distinctive bright blue feet, which is a sexually selected trait. Males display their feet in an elaborate mating ritual by lifting them up and down while strutting before the female.
The blue color of the blue-footed booby's webbed feet comes from carotenoid pigments obtained from its diet of fresh fish. Carotenoids act as antioxidants and stimulants for the blue-footed booby's immune function, suggesting that carotenoid-pigmentation is an indicator of an individual's immunological state. Blue feet also indicate the current health condition of a booby.
The brightness of the feet decreases with age, so females tend to mate with younger males with brighter feet, who have higher fertility and greater ability to provide paternal care than older males. In a cross-fostering experiment, it was observed that foot color reflects paternal contribution to raising chicks; chicks raised by foster fathers with brighter feet grew faster than chicks raised by foster males with duller feet. Females continuously evaluate their partners' condition based on foot color. In one experiment, males whose partners had laid a first egg in the nest had their feet dulled by make-up. The female partners laid smaller second eggs a few days later. As duller feet usually indicate a decrease in health and possibly genetic quality, it is adaptive for these females to decrease their investment in the second egg. Photo unknown.