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Male Crickets Who Offer Females Tasty Treats Can Trick Them Into Mating, Researchers Say

Oct 13, 2015 03:22 PM EDT

Male cricket suiters, it seems, are in the habit of gifting female crickets the equivalent of seductive "chocolates" in the form of unique edibles proteins that ultimately affect a female's mating behavior, say researchers from the University of Exeter and Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology.

Along with offering up their sperm in a capsule called an ampulla – a behavior that's common to many insects – male crickets known as Decorated Crickets, Gryllodes sigillatus, offer their prospective mates the additional gift of large gelatinous ball of tasty protein.

"It has long been thought that the purpose of the edible love gift was so that male crickets could be sure their sperm wouldn't be eaten by the female. Richard Ffrench-Constant, a professor from the University of Exeter, said in a news release.  However our study suggests that the story may actually be more complex and that the gift not only functions to feed the female but it may also affect her behavior."

After receiving the gelatinous nuptial offering, female crickets detach it from the accompanying sperm capsule and feed on it during sperm transfer to her sperm storage organ. If she's finished the treat before the transfer process is complete, she'll turn her attention to devouring the sperm capsule, which certainly won't help conception. It follows then that males who produce bigger treats that require females more time to consume – while the sperm transer is happening – reproduce more successfully. In short, male crickets offer up these nuptial treats to keep female crickets focussed on consuming the least precious of his two gifts. But there's more to the mating tactic. Researchers add that some of the proteins contained in the gifts seem to alter a female's reproductive physiology, making her less likely to mate with other males. 

The study was recently published in the journal PLOS ONE

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