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image of Behaviour

Female sagebrush crickets (Cyphoderris strepitans) feed on males' fleshy hind wings during copulation and ingest haemolymph oozing from the wounds they inflict. The wounds are not fatal and usually only a portion of the hind wings are eaten at any one mating, so that mated males are not precluded from mating again. However, based on their relative abundance in the population, virgin males have a higher mating success than non-virgin males. One explanation for this virgin-male mating advantage is that non-virgin males, having been depleted of their energy reserves through the wing-feeding behaviour of their mates, are unable to sustain the same level of acoustic signalling they produce prior to copulation. Previous assays of male signalling behaviour have provided some support to this hypothesis. However, an alternative explanation is that females actively seek out virgin males as mates because of the greater material resources they offer. If the acoustic structure of males' signals were systematically altered by the loss of hind-wing material underlying the sound-producing tegmina, females could potentially discriminate against mated males through reduced phonotaxis to their calls. We tested this hypothesis by experimentally removing one hind wing from virgin males, thereby simulating the non-virgin condition without the attendant costs of copulation. We compared the mating success of these 'asymmetrical' males with that of sham-operated virgin males when competing under natural conditions. In a companion laboratory study, we used time-lapse video recording to examine the possibility that female preferences are exerted only after pair formation has occurred. There was no significant difference in male mating success across treatments in either study. We conclude, therefore, that the virgin-male mating advantage does not stem from an acoustically mediated, non-independent female mating preference, but rather, from the differential competitiveness of males.


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