The evolutionary payout for prickly sex

Mount Holyoke expert Patricia Brennan explains that both males and females benefit from the thorny genital arms race in seed beetles.

In the world of ecology, bugs are notorious for their pokey parts. Male seed beetles specifically have famously prickly penile appendages that are known to scratch, scar and even kill females during mating. The females of the species are said to have evolved numerous genital structures of their own to mitigate the danger of being stabbed to death by their partner’s penis.

New research, explained in an article in the Atlantic, shows that the female is not a passively self-protective participant in the genital arms race of the seed beetle and that female seed beetles benefit from mating with extra thorny males in the form of more offspring. 

The finding didn’t shock Patricia Brennan, whose expertise in animal genitalia has made a name for her in the world of biology. Brennan’s research, which has focused on the notoriously labyrinthine genitalia of female ducks, also points to the mutual benefit of circuitous sexual circuitry.

The findings are “totally what you would expect,” she told the Atlantic. If stabby sex didn’t confer evolutionary advantages to all, she asked, “how would the system be maintained?”

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