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Nuptial Gifts

During courtship and mating, insect males often transfer materials to females beyond the requisite gametes. Such nuptial gifts represent a fascinating convergence of sexual selection, nutritional ecology, and life history evolution. Especially among insects that feed only during their juvenile stage, nuptial gifts can strongly impact adult reproductive output for both sexes. However, little is known concerning factors that drive the evolution of nuptial gifts.

Using the beetle family Lampyridae (fireflies) as a model system, our work has begun to shed light on the evolution of nuptial gifts. While both sexes are fully capable of flight in most fireflies, females in some species have wings that are greatly attenuated or even absent. Our research has revealed a surprisingly tight co-evolutionary relationship between female flightlessness and the loss of male nuptial gifts. Because flightless females should be able to maximize their allocation toward reproduction, they may have limited scope for any further increases in their lifetime fecundity. If the proportional fecundity gain from spermatophores is lower than their cost, this may have led to reduction and eventual loss of male spermatophores.

View chart of nuptial gift evolution  |  Watch video