The livebearing all-female fish Poecilia formosa reproduces by gynogenesis, a modified form of parthenogenesis. P. formosa forms at least two breeding complexes: in its northern range it exists sympatrically with Poecilia latipinna and in its southern range with Poecilia mexicana. Differences between these complexes and their possible origin are discussed. Embryogenesis is triggered by sperm of males of these closely related sympatric species. Because inheritance is strictly maternal, from the male point of view energy and time invested are totally lost.
In this study we wanted to elucidate whether males are able to distinguish between conspecific and parasitic females. It could be shown that males are able to distinguish females optically, but that this ability was obscured as soon as chemical and/or tactile contact was possible.
Furthermore, we found that females in an attractive phase of their sexual cycle are always preferred, regardless of species. This is possibly the mechanism by which parasitic females obtain the matings they need to reproduce.