Switching sexes and rearranging genitals: Tahitian bugs reveal unusual habits

Sep 05, 2013
Researchers have discovered a strange mechanism whereby two species of traumatically inseminating plant bug are able to live together in Tahiti.

Researchers from Macquarie University and the University of New South Wales have discovered a strange mechanism whereby two species of traumatically inseminating plant bug are able to live together in Tahiti, as published in a new article in The American Naturalist.

The discovery highlights a very unusual mating system, and an understudied mechanism that the researchers believe may underpin the we see today.

"Reproductive interference occurs when closely related species living in close proximity accidentally attempt to mate with one another," explains Nik Tatarnic, who undertook the research through Macquarie University, but is now curator of insects at the Western Australian Museum.

"This can be costly not only in terms of wasted time and energy, but may also lead to damage and even death. These costs may be especially severe for animals with damaging , such as traumatically inseminating insects."

In these insects, males use hypodermic genitalia to pierce females in the side of the body, bypassing their genitalia and inseminating directly into their abdomen.

Not surprisingly, even between members of the same species traumatic insemination is costly, with females often evolving damage-mitigating "paragenitalia" at the site of insemination. When two such species co-occur however, the consequences can be dire.

To overcome the risks of interbreeding, the behaviour of bugs in this Tahitian environment suggests that both sexes of one species mimic the males of the other, thus flying under the radar and avoiding unwanted interspecies copulations.

Further ensuring their , both species possess different forms of paragenitalia and are inseminated through different parts of the body. "These results show that and interspecies interactions can work together to keep species apart, and may even drive the creation of new species," says Tatarnic.

Explore further: Research duo report first observation of cross species mimicry to ward off reproductive efforts

More information: Tatarnic, N. J.  and Cassis, G. 2013. Surviving in sympatry: paragenital divergence and sexual mimicry between a pair of traumatically inseminating plant bugs, American Naturalist. www.jstor.org/stable/info/10.1086/671931

Related Stories

Why guppies have genital claws

Aug 02, 2013

New research from evolutionary biologists at the University of Toronto shows that the male guppy grows claws on its genitals to make it more difficult for unreceptive females to get away during mating.

Male guppies ensure successful mating with genital claws

Jul 24, 2013

Some males will go to great lengths to pursue a female and take extreme measures to hold on once they find one that interests them, even if that affection is unrequited. New research from evolutionary biologists ...

New fish species offers literal take on 'hooking up'

Sep 27, 2012

Fishing hooks aren't the only hooks found in east-central Mexican waters. A new species of freshwater fish described by a North Carolina State University researcher has several interesting – and perhaps ...

Guppies and sexual conflict? It's a genital arms race

Jun 03, 2013

(Phys.org) —It's not always easy to tell if a fish is male or female: they look more or less the same. But there are exceptions, such as guppies and, as with humans, guppy genitalia varies in size across ...

Recommended for you

'Killer sperm' prevents mating between worm species

6 hours ago

The classic definition of a biological species is the ability to breed within its group, and the inability to breed outside it. For instance, breeding a horse and a donkey may result in a live mule offspring, ...

Rare Sri Lankan leopards born in French zoo

9 hours ago

Two rare Sri Lankan leopard cubs have been born in a zoo in northern France, a boost for a sub-species that numbers only about 700 in the wild, the head of the facility said Tuesday.

Researcher reveals how amphibians crossed continents

11 hours ago

There are more than 7,000 known species of amphibians that can be found in nearly every type of ecosystem on six continents. But there have been few attempts to understand exactly when and how frogs, toads, ...

User comments : 0