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Anim Behav. 2000 Dec;60(6):837-849.

Paternity in horseshoe crabs when spawning in multiple-male groups.

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Department of Zoology, University of Florida


Unpaired or satellite male horseshoe crabs, Limulus polyphemus, are attracted to and often form a group around a pair (a female with an attached male) that is nesting in the high intertidal zone. These males are engaged in sperm competition. We observed nesting pairs and their associated satellites in the wild, collected and reared their eggs and used genetic markers to examine paternity. We found that the unpaired, satellite males are highly successful at fertilizing eggs; two satellites can leave the attached male with few fertilizations. Two satellites together are each as successful as one spawning with a pair. A satellite's location around the female greatly affects his success, and males compete for access to a position over the dorsal canal between the prosoma and opisthosoma of the female and under the front margin of the paired male where they are most likely to fertilize eggs. Although eggs and sperm retain their viability for some time after spawning, nearly all eggs are fertilized by the satellites that are around the nesting pair at the time of egg laying and by the attached male. A number of factors including beach current, female size and male behaviour affect the outcome of sperm competition in this externally fertilizing species.


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