Ectomised conductors in the golden orb-web spider, Nephila plumipes (Araneoidea): a male adaptation to sexual conflict?
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Male genitalia may facilitate sperm protection by acting as a plug that prevents or hinders future matings. The pedipalps (intromittant organs) of males of the orb-web spider, Nephila plumipes, have a conductor with a peculiarly curved ending and a triangular process near the terminal end. The tip of the conductor, including the process, breaks during most matings and remains inside the female genital tract. We explored the possible function of the conductor as a mating plug using the double-mating sterile-male technique. Our data are not consistent with a plug function because males use only one pedipalp in each mating, thus leaving an unobstructed insemination duct available for future matings; conductors of males mating with virgin females are not more likely to break than those of males mating with mated females, and second males show no preference for used or unused spermathecae. In addition, males that inserted their palp in the insemination duct that contained a tip of the conductor from a previous male obtained a share in the paternity of the female's clutch of eggs. Interestingly, the conductor is more likely to break if it is inserted in an unused spermatheca. We argue that several lines of evidence suggest that the conductor breaks as a result of intersexual conflict over the duration of copulation.
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