Female genitalia in Pityohyphantes phrygianus, a spider with a skewed sex ratio

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Abstract

The functioning of female genitalia in many arthropods, especially the site and mode of sperm storage, may have a strong impact on the pattern of sperm usage, leading to differential male fertilization success and even varying offspring sex ratios. The female genital morphology of the linyphiid spider Pityohyphantes phrygianus was investigated, as this species was shown to possess an intriguing mechanism of sex ratio determination, possibly related to genital morphology. By means of SEM and serial semi-thin sectioning, two distinctly different spermathecae plus an additional sperm sac, equipped with several valves, were found on each side of the genital apparatus. Sperm is stored under different conditions, as one of the spermathecae exhibits large gland cells of different types that discharge their products into the spermatheca through long secretory ducts, whereas the other spermatheca is surrounded by a simpler type of gland cell. Furthermore, there are folds instead of closed ducts leading to the spermathecae, and from the spermathecae to the oviduct. The latter fertilization-fold runs inside the copulatory chamber and enters the oviduct from the outside. The mechanisms for sex ratio bias in spiders are discussed. The occurrence of two types of spermatheca of which one is twisted, provides good evidence for the involvement of female genital morphology in sex ratio control of P. phrygianus offspring. Data are compiled on species for which information is available on sex ratio and female genital morphology. We put forward a hypothesis that in species with a skewed sex ratio, there is interaction between female genital morphology and behaviour, i.e. change of body position before, during or immediately after sperm transfer.

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