Original Paper

Evolutionary Ecology

, Volume 25, Issue 2, pp 351-362

First online:

Longer exaggerated male genitalia confer defensive sperm-competitive benefits in an earwig

  • Emile van LieshoutAffiliated withDepartment of Zoology, University of Melbourne Email author 
  • , Mark A. ElgarAffiliated withDepartment of Zoology, University of Melbourne

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As evidence mounts that male genitalia can affect relative fertilisation success, the role that sexual selection has played in the rapid and divergent evolution of genitalia is becoming increasingly recognized. Unfortunately, the limited functional understanding of these complex structures and their interactions with the female reproductive tract often limit interpretation regarding their evolution. Here, we address this issue using the earwig Euborellia brunneri, where both the male intromittent organ and the female spermatheca are highly exaggerated in length yet structurally simple. In a double mating design, we use the sterile male technique to study how sperm precedence patterns are affected by male genital length, male age, and the size of the male sperm storage organ, the seminal vesicle. Relative fertilisation success exhibited considerable variation around modest last-male paternity. Only an interaction between first and second male genital length affected paternity, where males gained reduced paternity when preceded by rivals with longer genitalia. Longer genitalia confer defensive benefits in sperm competition by apparently depositing ejaculate deeper in the tubular spermatheca, safe from removal by rivals. Paternity similarly depended on an interaction between the ages of both males, likely mediated by sperm traits as testes size decreased with age. Seminal vesicle size showed positive allometry but did not affect paternity; instead, greater seminal vesicle size in last males expedited oviposition. The exaggerated yet relatively simple genitalia of E. brunneri facilitate an unusually clear example of post-copulatory selection on phenotypic variation in multiple reproductive traits.


Genitalia Sperm competition Fertilisation success Exaggeration Elaboration Spermatheca