Sperm competition games between sneaks and guards: A comparative analysis using dimorphic male beetles

Leigh W. Simmons, Douglas J. Emlen, Joseph L. Tomkins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

85 Scopus citations


Sperm competition is widely recognized as a pervasive force of sexual selection. Theory predicts that across species increased risk of sperm competition should favor an increased expenditure on the ejaculate, a prediction for which there is much evidence. Sperm competition games have also been developed specifically for systems in which males adopt the alternative male mating tactics of sneaking copulations or guarding females. These models have not yet been tested in a comparative context, but predict that: across species male expenditure on the ejaculate should increase with increasing probability of a sneak mating; within species, sneaks should have the greater expenditure on the ejaculate; and the disparity in expenditure between sneaks and guards should be greatest in species with moderate risk of a sneak mating, and decline toward parity in species with low or high risk. Beetles in the genus Onthophagus are often characterized by dimorphic male morphologies that reflect the alternative mating tactics of sneak (minor males) and guard (major males). We conducted a comparative analysis across 16 species of male dimorphic onthophagines, finding that testes size increased across species with increasing frequency of the minor male phenotype. Minor males generally had the greater testes size, but across species the disparity between morphs was independent of the frequency of minor males. We present data on testes allometry from two populations of O. taurus that have undergone genetic divergence in the frequency of minor males. Consistent with the comparative analysis, these data support the notion that the relative frequency of sneaks in the population influences male expenditure on the ejaculate.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2684-2692
Number of pages9
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2007


  • Alternative mating tactics
  • Comparative analysis
  • Onthophagus
  • Sperm competition
  • Testis size


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