• genitalic evolution;
  • sexual selection;
  • cryptic female choice;
  • lock-and-key;
  • male-female conflict

Several possible explanations for the elaborate species-specific morphology of male front leg clasping organs were tested by comparing six species of Archisepsis, Palaeosepsis and Microsepsis flies. The only previously published hypothesis regarding these clasping organs was refuted by the finding that species-specific portions of the male femur and tibia consistently meshed tightly with prominent veins and folds in the female's wing, rather than meshing with each other. Female wing morphology in the region grasped by the male was relatively uniform and in general did not vary in ways that would prevent non-conspecific males from grasping them, arguing in all but one species against both simple lock-and-key and male-female conflict of interests hypotheses based on morphology. Interspecific differences in male front leg morphology generally represent alternative ways to accomplish the same basic mechanical function of holding tightly onto the relatively invariant female. Despite the fact that female resistance behaviour indicates that male-female conflict over male mounting is common, only one female wing structure in one species resembled an anti-clasper device, giving a second reason to doubt the morphological male-female conflict of interest hypothesis, at least for five of the six species. The positions of probable sensory structures on the wings of females were relatively similar in different species and did not correspond in any obvious way to species-specific features of male clasping structures. This, plus the intraspecific variation in both the positions of these sensilla and the exact site where the male grasped the female's wing, argued against simple ‘sensory lock-and-key’ ideas about male front leg function. By a process of elimination, it appears that generalized female receptors are able to sense species-specific differences in male front legs. This idea was supported by increased female rejection behaviour in cross-specific pairs.