The phalloid organ, orgasm and sperm competition in a polygynandrous bird: the red-billed buffalo weaver (Bubalornis niger)
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The buffalo weavers, Bubalornis spp., are unique amongst birds in possessing a phalloid organ, a phallus-like structure anterior to the cloaca. We studied the red-billed buffalo weaver Bubalornis niger, to determine whether the phalloid organ has evolved in response to sperm competition. The phalloid organ was significantly longer in males that were resident at nests than in non-resident males, and among resident males was significantly longer in those males with a harem than in those without. Red-billed buffalo weavers bred colonially and had either a cooperatively polygynandrous (usually two unrelated males and several females) or a polygynous (one male and several females) mating system. Cooperative polygynandry provided females with the opportunity to copulate with more than one male and paternity analyses using DNA fingerprinting revealed that 63% of 16 multiple-offspring broods, comprising 43 offspring, had multiple sires, which included both nest-owning males and extra-group males. Sperm competition was therefore intense. Observations and experiments with buffalo weavers in captivity revealed that the phalloid organ was not intromittent during copulation, but functioned as a stimulatory organ which necessitated protracted copulation in order to induce male 'orgasm' and ejaculation, a feature apparently unique to this species.
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