Sunday, May 10, 2009

Homosexual and masturbatory behavior observed in flour beetles

This behavior in the 0.13-inch-long (three-millimeter-long) Tribolium castaneum, which can be found infesting flour in most temperate areas, has been observed for decades

They found that homosexual encounters did not improve a male's sexual success with females, as measured by the number of offspring carrying his genes. There was also no connection between homosexual activity and social dominance—male beetles that had many sexual encounters with other male beetles did not earn more attention from females.

What the team did find was that males were dribbling sperm onto each other. This suggested that males might be trying to get rid of old sperm, lining up fresher sperm for their next female encounter.

The team also found that if one male leaked semen on another male and the semen-covered male later bred with a female, the female's eggs could become fertilized with the sperm of the male she had never encountered. That a male could inseminate a female without directly breeding with her came as a big surprise.

It reveals that the flour beetles' homosexual behavior yields a direct reproductive benefit, allowing males to inseminate females without expending time or energy having sex with them.
"We could not believe these results when we first saw them, so we ran the experiment over and over again to make sure it was actually happening," Lewis said.

Levan, K. E., Fedina, T. Y.; Lewis, S. M. 2009. Testing multiple hypotheses for the maintenance of male homosexual copulatory behaviour in flour beetles. Journal of Evolutionary Biology. 22(1):60-70.

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