Promiscuity and elongated sperm storage organs work cooperatively as a cryptic female choice mechanism in an earwig

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12 Citations (Scopus)


Female genitalia often show complex morphologies that cannot be explained by sperm reception and storage functions. However, our understanding of the forces underlying genital exaggeration in females is limited. Female earwigs, Euborellia plebeja, are promiscuous and their highly elongated sperm storage organs allow only partial removal and displacement of stored sperm by shorter male genitalia, resulting in only a 20% gain in paternity per copulation with a sperm-saturated female. This study examined the significance and optimality of restricted sperm displacement for females. A staged mating experiment with a paternity success analysis revealed that large males dominated male-male competition for burrows housing females, resulting in repeated copulations with the same female. Despite the low paternity gain per copulation, such repeated copulations resulted in a significant increase in paternity for larger males with higher resource-holding potential. A numerical simulation based on the relationship between male body size and copulation frequency showed that restricted sperm displacement (about 20% per copulation) is optimal for promiscuous females to accumulate sperm effectively from larger males. Because male body size is heritable in this species, females were estimated to benefit from a 1.4% increase in their sons' mating success. This genetic benefit disappeared when only a single copulation per male-female encounter was assumed. Since no measurable costs of mating for females have been detected in this species, the combination of promiscuity and restricted sperm displacement is best explained by the cryptic female choice hypothesis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)377-383
Number of pages7
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2013 Feb
Externally publishedYes


  • Cryptic female choice
  • Earwig
  • Euborellia plebeja
  • Indirect mating benefit
  • Promiscuity
  • Sperm competition
  • Sperm storage organ
  • Spermatheca

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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