Alternative reproductive tactics and male-dimorphism in the horned beetle Onthophagus acuminatus (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae)

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Adult dung beetles (Onthophagus acuminatus) exhibit continuous variation in body size resulting from differential nutritional conditions experienced during larval development. Males of this species have a pair of horns that protrude from the base of the head, and the lengths of these horns are bimodally distributed in natural populations. Males growing larger than a threshold body size develop long horns, and males that do not achieve this size grow only rudimentary horns or no horns at all. Previous studies of other horned beetle species have shown that horned and hornless males often have different types of reproductive behavior. Here I describe the mating behaviors of the two male morphs of O. acuminatus during encounters with females. Females excavate tunnels beneath dung, where they feed, mate and provision eggs. Large, horned males were found to guard entrances to tunnels containing females. These males fought with all other males that attempted to enter these tunnels. In contrast, small, hornless males encountered females by sneaking into tunnels guarded by other males. In many instances, this was accomplished by digging new tunnels that intercepted the guarded tunnels below ground. Side-tunneling behavior allowed sneaking males to enter tunnels beneath the guarding male, and mate with females undetected. Both overall body size and relative horn length significantly affected the outcome of fights over tunnel ownership. These results suggest that alternative reproductive tactics may favor divergence in male horn morphology, with long horns favored in males large enough to guard tunnels, and hornlessness favored in smaller males that adopt the 'sneaking' behavioral alternative.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)335-341
Number of pages7
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 1997


  • Alternative reproductive behavior
  • Horned beetles
  • Male competition
  • Male dimorphism
  • Onthophagus


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