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Abstract

Extreme asymmetric morphologies are hypothesized to serve an adaptive function that counteracts sexual selection for symmetry. However, direct tests of function for asymmetries are lacking, particularly in the context of animal weapons. The weapon of the maritime earwig, Anisolabis maritima, exhibits sizeable variation in the extent of directional asymmetry within and across body sizes, making it an ideal candidate for investigating the function of asymmetry. In this study, we characterized the extent of weapon asymmetry, characterized the manner in which asymmetric weapons are used in contests, staged dyadic contests between males of different size classes, and analyzed the correlates of fighting success. In contests between large males, larger individuals won more fights and emerged as the dominant male. In contests between small males, however, weapon asymmetry was more influential in predicting overall fighting success than body size. This result reveals an advantage of asymmetric weaponry among males that are below the mean size in the population. A forceps manipulation experiment suggests that asymmetry may be an indirect correlate of a morphologically independent factor that affects fighting ability.