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Piercing the partner's skin influences sperm uptake in the earthworm Lumbricus terrestris

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Sexual conflict between mating partners can give rise to strategies that are advantageous for one sex but harmful to the opposite sex. Usually, sperm donors develop (offensive) traits to enhance their chances in sperm competition, while sperm recipients evolve (defensive) traits that allow them to stay in control of who fathers their offspring. Here, we demonstrate that these processes are also at work in simultaneous hermaphrodites. The hermaphroditic earthworm Lumbricus terrestris uses 40 to 44 copulatory setae to pierce into its partner's skin, causing damage and injecting a substance from its setal glands. Experimental injection of the gland substance indicates that a refractory period may be induced. More importantly, removal of the copulatory setae shows that they influence the partner's sperm uptake. When the setae are present, more sperm are taken up and sperm are distributed more equally over the four spermathecae. We interpret this as a strategy that stacks the odds for the donor's sperm in fertilizing cocoons.

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We thank J. Lange, G. Sundermann, C. Mehlis and C. Levesque for technical assistance and H. Schulenburg, L. Schärer, T. d'Souza, S. Field and A. Ter Maat for valuable comments. This research was partly funded by a fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation to JMK

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Correspondence to Joris M. Koene.

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Communicated by M. T. Siva-Jothy

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Koene, J.M., Pförtner, T. & Michiels, N.K. Piercing the partner's skin influences sperm uptake in the earthworm Lumbricus terrestris . Behav Ecol Sociobiol 59, 243–249 (2005).

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