Darwin was both impressed and confounded by the elaborate ornaments used for sexual display throughout the animal kingdom. He was impressed because many of these traits are among the most beautiful in the animal kingdom. He was confounded because these traits should have been weeded out by natural selection since they reduce rather than enhance survivorship. To remedy this conundrum, he proposed his theory of sexual selection, arguing that such traits could evolve if they promoted mating success that would more than compensate for any survival deficit.

But whence come the mating preferences for such traits? Darwin proposed that animals, much like humans, have a sexual aesthetic or, as Darwin phrased it, “a taste for the beautiful.” Furthermore, he suggested that courters, usually males, should evolve courtship displays pleasing to the already-existing biases of choosers, usually females. The parallels to studies of neuroaesthetics in humans is striking. Here I review recent studies that are becoming more and more successful at defining the biological scaffolding for the taste for sexual beauty in animals.