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Same-sex sexual behavior in insects and arachnids: prevalence, causes, and consequences

Abstract

Same-sex sexual (SSS) behavior represents an evolutionary puzzle: whilst associated costs seem obvious, positive contributions to fitness remain unclear. Various adaptive explanations have been proposed and thorough reviews exist for vertebrates, but a thorough synthesis of causes for SSS behavior in invertebrates is lacking. Here we provide evidence for such behavior in ~110 species of insects and arachnids. Males are more frequently involved in SSS behavior in the laboratory than in the field, and isolation, high density, and exposure to female pheromones increase its prevalence. SSS behavior is often shorter than the equivalent heterosexual behavior. Most cases can be explained via mistaken identification by the active (courting/mounting) male. Adaptive explanations, such as sperm transfer of the mounting male via the mounted one or gaining experience by young males, are of limited general significance. The passive (being courted/mounted) male is sometimes responsible for this “mistake” by releasing sex pheromones or carrying female pheromones that were attached to his cuticle during prior mating activity. Passive males often resist courting/mating attempts. SSS behavior in arthropods is predominantly based on mistaken identification and is probably maintained because the cost of rejecting a valid opportunity to mate with a female is greater than that of mistakenly mating with a male. Many species exhibiting SSS behavior also mate with related species, another case of mistaken identification. Future research should focus on uncovering the situations/contexts in which mistaken identification is more or less costly for males.

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful to Erez Barkae, Roi Dor, and Sonja Sbilordo for their fruitful comments on earlier versions of the manuscript. We are also indebted to Nathan Bailey and an anonymous reviewer for their constructive and helpful inputs. The research leading to this manuscript was funded by the People Programme (Marie Curie Actions) of the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under REA grant agreement No. 333442. OYM is supported by SNF Ambizione grant PZ00P3_137514.

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Correspondence to Inon Scharf.

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Scharf, I., Martin, O.Y. Same-sex sexual behavior in insects and arachnids: prevalence, causes, and consequences. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 67, 1719–1730 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-013-1610-x

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Keywords

  • Homosexual
  • Intra-sexual
  • Reproductive interference
  • Male–male
  • Mating costs