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Am Nat. 2007 Dec;170(6):931-5. doi: 10.1086/522844.

Female-limited polymorphism in the copulatory organ of a traumatically inseminating insect.

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  • 1Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield, Sheffield S10 2TN, United Kingdom.


Sexual conflict can produce several evolutionary outcomes, one of which is female-limited trait polymorphism. We examine the African bat bug Afrocimex constrictus (Cimicidae), a species where both sexes are subjected to traumatic intromission from males. We show that males possess female genital structures that in related species ameliorate the costs of traumatic insemination. Moreover, the male form of these structures differs morphologically from the standard female form. Examination of females in our isolated study population revealed a discrete polymorphism in female genitalia. Some females had the typical cimicid form, while others had genitalia that more closely resembled the distinctive male form. Males, as well as females with the distinctive male form, experienced fewer traumatic copulations than the typical female morph. We propose that some females mimic the bizarre male condition in order to reduce the frequency of costly traumatic inseminations. To our knowledge this is the first example of a distinct female-limited genital polymorphism: its nature, as well as its association with traumatic sexual interactions, strongly suggests that sexual conflict underpins this unique phenomenon.

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