Independence, not conflict, characterizes dart-shooting and sperm exchange in a hermaphroditic snail
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Although the sexes are united in hermaphrodites, conflict can still occur because the male and female functions have separate interests. We examined the evidence for conflict in the mating system of the terrestrial snail Cantareus aspersus (formerly Helix aspersa) where sharp, calcareous darts are ‘shot’ during courtship. We predicted that the use of the dart would either reflect or create conflict and this would be evident in either the courtship behavior or the transference of sperm. Previous studies demonstrated that the dart functions after sperm transfer to increase sperm survival. Using detailed observations of mating snails, we examined the factors that determine dart shooting order, the behavioral responses after being hit by a dart, the accuracy of dart shooting, and the allocation of sperm resources. We found that each dart was shot independently, and each animal appeared to be interested only in getting off the best possible shot, probably one that penetrates deeply near the genital pore. There is no evidence of mating conflict. Every snail transfers sperm to its partner, and the size of the donation does not depend on the success or failure of either snail’s dart shot. Although the receipt of a dart does not appear to cause harm, it may produce indirect costs due to the partial loss of control over fertilization. We conclude that mating in C. aspersus is a partnership in which independent actors demonstrate unconditional reciprocity during courtship and sperm transfer.
KeywordsMating conflict Sexual conflict Courtship Cantareus aspersus Helix aspersa
We thank Katrina Blanchard, Robert Hutcheson, Joris Koene and Heike Reise for their comments on the manuscript. Angus Davison kindly allowed us to see unpublished work. Funded by a grant to R. Chase and an Undergraduate Student Research Award to K. Vaga, both from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. This research complies with current laws in Canada.
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