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Sexual Behavior Of Female Insects: Do Genes or the Weather Determine Number Of Mates?

Oct 29, 2015 11:15 AM EDT
Fruit Flies
Some female fruit flies become more promiscuous depending on the weather.
(Photo : Wikimedia Commons )

Some insects get a bit promiscuous when it's cold outside; others, however, remain strictly monogamous no matter the temperature. To find out what governed such mating behavior, researchers from the University of Exeter took a closer look at fruit flies and found that while environmental conditions have some influence on their mating decision, it mostly comes down to genetics.

For their study, researchers collected wild fruit flies from Arizona and Montana and observed the behaviors in both warmer climates colder climates. Then they tested to see if an insect's mating habits would change once exposed to temperatures that were the opposite of their natural habitat, revealing that some were encouraged to change their behavior when the temperatures were different than what they were accustomed to while others still went the monogamous route. 

Essentially, if female insects lack the genetics for monogamy, they are more likely to base their decision on the climate. In this case, females tend to be more promiscuous when living in a colder area, while members of the same species are happy with a singular soul mate in warmer areas.  

"Sexual behavior is really hardwired into females. It makes sense biologically for females to have a number of partners as they will produce more offspring that are more genetically diverse and survive better," Dr. Michelle Taylor, lead researcher of the study, explained in a news release.

"These results are an important step towards understanding how genes and environment contribute towards behavior and ultimately how behavior affects the success or failure of natural populations," Dr. Taylor said in a statement. "Mating with many different males can change the genetic make-up of a population because it increases the number of combinations of genes represented in each generation. Evolutionarily speaking, this could be one reason why some populations are able to adapt to changing environments while others go extinct."

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