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Issue 475, 21 January 2002

Life, sex and incest in the insect world

Multiple mates – male and female crickets

Females who mate with two males can choose between their sperm to avoid having their brothers' offspring, according to a new study by researchers Dr Tom Tregenza and Dr Nina Wedell.

The scientists believe that females mate repeatedly as a way of choosing between males, and are able to recognise and avoid using sperm from their relatives. Carrying out tests with crickets, they showed that when females mated only with their brothers, many of their eggs failed to hatch. When they mated with both a brother and an unrelated male, their eggs were as viable as when mating with unrelated males.

Dr Tregenza said: "Because incest is a risk in many species, it is likely that crickets are not alone in this ability to use promiscuity to their advantage.

"We don't yet know how females avoid using their brothers' sperm. They may be able to avoid taking up any of the sperm packet passed to them at mating, if they recognise the male is a brother, or receptors inside the female may detect sperm from related males and avoid using it."

Dr Nina Wedell said: "The reasons why females mate with lots of males is a major issue for evolutionary biology. Female mating behaviour has broad implications for understanding competition between males, mate choice and why males produce millions of sperm. It may also be important for issues such as human infertility and animal breeding."


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