Receiver bias models suggest that a male sexual signal became exaggerated to match a pre-existing sensory, perceptual or cognitive disposition of the female. Accordingly, these models predict that females of related taxa possessing the ancestral state of signalling evolved preference for the male trait in a non-sexual context. We postulated that female preference for the male-released bile alcohol mating pheromone, 3 keto petromyzonol sulfate (3kPZS), of the sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus) evolved as a result of a receiver bias. In particular, we propose that migratory silver lamprey (Ichthyomyzon unicuspis), a basal member of the Petromyzontidae, evolved a preference for 3kPZS released by stream-resident larvae as a means of identifying productive habitat for offspring. Larval silver lamprey released 3kPZS at rates sufficient to be detected by migratory lampreys. Females responded to 3kPZS by exhibiting upstream movement behaviours relevant in a migratory context, but did not exhibit proximate behaviours important to mate search and spawning. Male silver lamprey did not release 3kPZS at rates sufficient to be detected by females in natural high-volume stream environments. We infer that female silver lamprey cue onto 3kPZS excreted by stream-resident larvae as a mechanism to locate habitat conducive to offspring survival and that males do not signal with 3kPZS. We suggest that this female preference for a male signal in a non-sexual context represents a bias leading to the sexual signalling observed in sea lamprey.