Asymmetric female genitalia and other remarkable morphology in a new genus of cobweb spiders (Theridiidae, Araneae) from Madagascar



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    1. Systematic Biology – Entomology, E-530, Smithsonian Institution, NHB-105, PO Box 37012, Washington, D.C. 20013-7012, and The University of British Columbia, Departments of Botany and Zoology, 3529–6270 University Blvd., Vancouver, B.C. V6T 1Z4, Canada.
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Symmetry is such a conspicuous feature of life that asymmetries draw our immediate attention. While not uncommon in bilateral organisms in general, asymmetry in spiders is rare. Here I report the first case of antisymmetry in external female genitalia in spiders, in the new genus Asygyna (Theridiidae: Araneae) from Madagascar. In the nearly 39 000 species of spiders described to date, the external structure of the female genitalia is symmetric. In entelegyne spiders paired external copulatory openings each lead to an internal copulatory duct, whose roughly symmetrical trajectories terminate in paired receptacles, the spermathecae. In Asygyna, here exemplified by two new species, A. huberi and A. coddingtoni, laterality is evident in the internal and external female genitalia. A single copulatory opening leads (either to the left or right depending on the individual) to a single copulatory duct with a distinctly asymmetric trajectory. The duct splits terminally shortly before entering the two spermathecae. The males are symmetric, but possibly only one palp can be used in copulation with each female. If adaptive, the selective forces behind this asymmetry are perplexing, as male access to females seems reduced. However, if males are plentiful, asymmetry may benefit the female by reducing insertion times and thus shortening copulation time, and by tightening her control over which males sire her offspring. Asygyna has a range of other bizarre sex-related morphologies, including prosomal pits and a well developed stridulatory mechanism in both sexes, a male proboscis, and simplified palps. A phylogenetic analysis, including 63 taxa and 242 morphological characters, places Asygyna in Pholcommatinae, sister to the enigmatic genus Carniella. © 2006 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2006, 87, 211–232.