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March 21, 2021 52 min

The bright elastic throats of anole lizards, the Fabergé abdomens of peacock spiders and the curling, iridescent and ludicrously long feathers of birds-of-paradise. A number of animal species possess beautifully conspicuous and physically burdensome features.

Many biologists have long fit these tasking aesthetic displays into a more utilitarian view of evolution. However, a new generation of biologists have revived a long-ignored theory — that aesthetics and survival do not necessarily need to be linked and that animals can appreciate beauty for its own sake.

Today on The Sunday Read, a look at how these biologists are rewriting the standard explanation of how beauty evolves and the way we think about evolution itself. 

This story was written by Ferris Jabr and recorded by Audm. To hear more audio stories from publishers like The New York Times, download Audm for iPhone or Android.

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