July 24, 2013 — Some males will go to great lengths to pursue a female and take extreme measures to hold on once they find one that interests them, even if that affection is unrequited. New research from evolutionary biologists at the University of Toronto shows that the male guppy grows claws on its genitals to make it more difficult for unreceptive females to get away during mating.
Genitalia differ greatly in animal groups, even among similar species -- so much so that even closely related species may have very different genitalia. The reasons for these differences are unclear but sexual conflict between males and females may be a source. Sexual conflict occurs when the fitness interests of males and females differ, which is rooted in differences in egg and sperm sizes. Males invest less than females in reproduction because sperm is cheap to produce, and larger eggs are most costly to make. This difference results in a conflict in which males are interested in mating with as many females possible but females are more selective with their mates.
The researchers examined the role of a pair of claws at the tip of the gonopodium of the male guppy (Poecilia reticulata) -- essentially the fish's penis.
"Our results show that the claws are used to increase sperm transfer to females who are resisting matings," says Lucia Kwan, PhD candidate in U of T's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and lead author of a paper published this week in Biology Letters. "This suggests that it has evolved to benefit males at the expense of females, especially when their mating interests differ."