Muscle mass drives cost in sexually selected arthropod weapons

Devin M. O'Brien, Romain P. Boisseau, Meghan Duell, Erin McCullough, Erin C. Powell, Ummat Somjee, Sarah Solie, Anthony J. Hickey, Gregory I. Holwell, Christina J. Painting, Douglas J. Emlen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Sexually selected weapons often function as honest signals of fighting ability. If poor-quality individuals produce high-quality weapons, then receivers should focus on other, more reliable signals. Cost is one way to maintain signal integrity. The costs of weapons tend to increase with relative weapon size, and thereby restrict large weapons to high-quality individuals who can produce and maintain them. Weapon cost, however, appears to be unpredictably variable both within and across taxa, and the mechanisms underlying this variation remain unclear. We suggest variation in weapon cost may result from variation in weapon composition-specifically, differences in the amount of muscle mass directly associated with the weapon. We test this idea by measuring the metabolic cost of sexually selected weapons in seven arthropod species and relating these measures to weapon muscle mass. We show that individuals with relatively large weapon muscles have disproportionately high resting metabolic rates and provide evidence that this trend is driven by weapon muscle mass. Overall, our results suggest that variation in weapon cost can be partially explained by variation in weapon morphology and that the integrity of weapon signals may be maintained by increased metabolic cost in species with relatively high weapon muscle mass.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20191063
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1905
StatePublished - Jun 26 2019


  • Animal weapons
  • Cost
  • Metabolic rate
  • Sexual selection


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