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Abstract

Reproductive parasitism among males is prevalent in fishes. Typically, small ripe males parasitize the reproductive effort of large bourgeois males by using various behavioural tactics. We examined the size-dependent advantages of parasitic behavioural tactics in a shell-brooding cichlid fish of Lake Tanganyika with three male types (large bourgeois males and medium–dwarf parasitic males). The extremely small ‘dwarf males’ weighing only 2.5% on average of large males, perform a specialized tactic in which they avoid attacks by the resident large males by entering the inner part of the whorl of the shell where a female is spawning. Field observations and a manipulation experiment revealed that the very small size of dwarf males is essential for utilizing this positional advantage. Larger dwarf males and medium males opportunistically adopt darting and sneaking which likely result in very low reproductive outcomes. The size associated advantage and disadvantage of parasitic tactics are the major factors shaping the size distribution of ripe males in this species. The success of parasitic spawning by dwarf males is determined not only by body size of the males, but also by the relative sizes of females and shells in which they spawn. These factors would affect the choice of different tactics among dwarf males. The analyses of body condition among ripe and unripe males across a wide range of body sizes suggested that onset of sexual activities at very small body sizes in dwarf males may be associated with higher condition factors that is a pre-requisite for maintaining investment in testes and intense reproductive activities.