Carotenoids, a family of natural pigments, form an important art of the colorful signals used by many animals. Animals acquire carotenoids either directly (from the plants and algae that produce them) or indirectly (by eating insects) and store them in a variety of tissues. Studies of several animal species have shown that when choosing mates, females prefer males with brighter carotenoid-based coloration. Owens and Olson hypothesize that the presence of carotenoids, as signaled by coloration, would be meaningful in the context of mate selection if carotenoids were either rare or required for health. The conventional view is that carotenoids are meaningful because they are rare: healthier males can forage for more of the pigments than can their inferior counterparts. Although this may be true, there is growing evidence that carotenoids are meaningful also because they are required: they are used by the immune system and for detoxification processes that are important for maintaining health. It may be that males can use scarce carotenoids either for immune defense and detoxification or for attracting females. Males that are more susceptible to disease and parasites will have to use their carotenoids to boost their immune systems, whereas males that are genetically resistant will use fewer carotenoids for fighting disease and will advertise this by using the pigments for flashy display instead.
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