A Taste for the Beautiful: The Evolution of Attraction, Book Review

Michael J. Ryan explores how the female brain drives the evolution of sexual beauty in a new book, set to be released in January 2018 just in time for Valentine’s Day. Ryan is the Clark Hubbs Regents Professor in Zoology at the University of Texas and a Senior Research Associate at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. He is a leading researcher in the fields of sexual selection, mate choice, and animal communication.


Zoologist Michael Ryan

In A Taste for the Beautiful, Michael Ryan, one of the world’s leading authorities on animal behavior, tells the remarkable story of how he and other scientists have taken up where Darwin left off and transformed our understanding of sexual selection, shedding new light on human behavior in the process.

Darwin developed the theory of sexual selection to explain why the animal world abounds in stunning beauty, from the brilliant colors of butterflies and fishes to the songs of birds and frogs. He argued that animals have “a taste for the beautiful” that drives their potential mates to evolve features that make them more sexually attractive and reproductively successful. But if Darwin explained why sexual beauty evolved in animals, he struggled to understand how.

Drawing on cutting-edge work in neuroscience and evolutionary biology, as well as his own important studies of the tiny Túngara frog deep in the jungles of Panama, Ryan explores the key questions: Why do animals perceive certain traits as beautiful and others not? Do animals have an inherent sexual aesthetic and, if so, where is it rooted?


Sexy little Túngara frog

Ryan argues that the answers to these questions lie in the brain―particularly of females, who act as biological puppeteers, spurring the development of beautiful traits in males. This theory of how sexual beauty evolves explains its astonishing diversity and provides new insights about the degree to which our own perception of beauty resembles that of other animals.

To learn more about his lab’s work check out their multimedia tab for interactive material available as teaching aids. It currently contains sonograms, wave files and a videos of túngara frog, frog-eating bats, and blood-sucking flies.

This book is about beauty, where it comes from and what it is for. In addition to referencing his own work with frogs, the book notes famous examples of sexual selection.


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Females are the puppeteers of sexual selection. If females finds a particular nest, color, behavior or feather attractive, those males are allowed to mate and pass on their genes of wacky colors, feathers or behavior. How else could you explain this:

“In this engaging book, Michael Ryan explores why all animals look for beauty in the opposite sex. Using his studies of Central American frogs as a jumping-off point, he expertly guides us through new discoveries and ideas about how brains have evolved to yearn for the beautiful. Surprisingly, what female frogs admire in their male suitors illuminates our own desires and attractions.”–Virginia Morell, author of the New York Times bestseller Animal Wise: How We Know Animals Think and Feel

I enjoyed the fun chapter titles including, ‘The Sounds of Sex, The Aroma of Adulation, Fickle Preferences and Beauty and the Brain.” It reminded me of the Erma Bombeck’s book, All I Know About Animal Behavior I Learned in Loehmann’s Dressing Room but with scientific references! 

Vividly written and filled with fascinating stories, A Taste for the Beautiful will change how you think about beauty and attraction. Pre-order now and your book will ship by January 26, 201 just in time for Valentine’s day!

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Male collard lizards’ color has been selected by the drab all brown females.

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