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‘Shouldering’ exaggerated genitalia: a unique behavioural adaptation for the retraction of the elongate intromittant organ by the male rove beetle (Aleochara tristis Gravenhorst)

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Complex genitalia are ubiquitous among arthropods, but little attention has been given to the fact that the evolution of such elaborate structures may have led to biomechanical constraints that hinder their usage. In the rove beetle, Aleochara tristis, the male's intromittant organ consists of a long flagellum that is more than twice the body length. It is introduced into the spermathecal duct of the female during copulation. The flagellum apparently functions as a guiding rod for a tube growing from the spermatophore that the male deposits in the female's genital chamber. The extraordinary length of the intromittant organ poses a unique physical challenge for the male. During its retraction from the female after mating, the flagellum is under considerable tension. Any sudden release of this tension would result in the flagellum becoming severely entangled, preventing the male from mating again. In response to this novel physical challenge, males have apparently evolved a specialized behavioural adaptation that prevents entanglement after copulation. While retracting the flagellum from the female, the male secures it between a wing shoulder and the pronotum (‘shouldering’), holding it taut for about one half of its length. This allows the stepwise retraction of the flagellum from the female and allows it to be retracted back into the male's body in an orderly fashion. This is, to our knowledge, the first demonstration of a behavioural adaptation that has evolved to ameliorate the biomechanical problems caused by exaggerated genital morphology. © 2005 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2005, 84, 307–312.
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Keywords: complex genitalia − genital morphology − sexual selection

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Institut für Biologie I (Zoologie), Universität Freiburg, Hauptstrasse 1, D-79104 Freiburg, Germany

Publication date: 2004-01-01

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