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Sexual Dimorphism

Updated: May 4, 2023

What is it? Sexual dimorphism refers to the differences between males and females of the same species with respect to physical, behavioral, or other traits. These differences can be the result of differences in anatomy, physiology, or biochemistry, and may be related to reproductive functions, such as attracting mates, defending territories, or caring for offspring. Sexual dimorphism is most commonly seen in animals, especially in species that have a high degree of sexual selection such as birds.

Examples of Sexual Dimorphism

In many species of birds, males often have more vibrant plumage and longer feathers than females. This is thought to be an adaptation to attract mates, as the bright colors and elaborate displays of the male can serve as an indicator of his fitness and quality as a potential partner.

In mammals, sexual dimorphism commonly appears as a differences in body size. In primates such as gorillas, males tend to be larger and have distinctive physical features such as larger canines or more prominent brow ridges. These traits may be related to competition for mates or to dominance and territory disputes with other males.


In reptiles, sexual dimorphism can be seen in the form of differences in size or coloration between males and females. For example, male alligators tend to be larger than females and have a wider, more robust snout, while male collared lizards have brighter, more striking coloration than females.


Sexual dimorphism can also be seen in some species of insects, where males may have more elaborate antennae or other structures used in courtship. In some species of fish, males may have distinctive colors or patterns used to attract mates or defend territories.

It is important to note that not all species show sexual dimorphism, and that the extent of dimorphism can vary greatly even within a species. Additionally, sexual dimorphism can change over time in response to environmental or evolutionary pressures.

Why is it important that we study it?

Sexual dimorphism evolved as a result of differences in selective pressures acting on males and females, such as differences in their roles in reproduction, defense of territory, or attraction of mates. Understanding sexual dimorphism can provide important insights into the biology, evolution, and ecology of a species, and is an important area of research in many different fields of study.

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