Sperm storage organs allow females to temporally separate insemination from fertilization, manipulate ejaculates and control fertilization. In the reproductive tract of female fruit flies (Diptera: Tephritidae), sperm are found in two different organs - a pair or triplet of spermathecae, and a "fertilization chamber". In order to understand the specific function of each of these organs, we tested the following hypotheses: (1) Sperm are distributed equally amongst the various sperm storage organs; (2) Both organ types maintain sperm viability; and (3) Sperm used in fertilization come from the fertilization chamber. We counted sperm in spermathecae and fertilization chamber of Mediterranean fruit flies (Ceratitis capitata) every 3 days for 18 days following insemination, and used a live/dead staining technique to determine the viability of sperm in these organs. Finally, by extirpating spermathecae from inseminated females and allowing them to oviposit, we were able to identify the fertilization chamber as the source of fertilizing sperm. Numbers of sperm in the spermathecae declined from an average of 3575 on the day of copulation to 649, 18 days later. Conversely, the fertilization chamber maintained a fairly constant level of sperms, ranging between an average of 207 cells on day 3 to 115 sperms on day 18. Throughout the period we monitored, we found high levels of sperm viability in both organs (>80%). Sperm viability was similarly high in the fertilization chambers of females without spermathecae. However, fertility of eggs laid by these females declined rapidly, as did the number of sperm in the fertilization chamber. We conclude that both the spermathecae and the fertilization chamber are active sperm storage organs, with separate functions: the spermathecae for long-term storage and the fertilization chamber, periodically filled by the spermathecae, a staging point for fertilizing sperm. We suggest that the use of both organs by females results in sperm economy, which adaptively prolongs the intervals between copulations.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
We thank S. Applebaum and T. Hermann for providing the laboratory reared flies. Michal Yuval drew Fig. 1a . Comments by Phil Taylor and an anonymous reviewer greatly improved this paper. Supported in part by a grant from IAEA/FAO to B.Y.
- Sexual selection
- Sperm storage