Penile morphology of African mole rats (Bathyergidae): structural modification in relation to mode of ovulation and degree of sociality


Philip W. Bateman, Department of Zoology & Entomology, University of Pretoria, Pretoria 0002, South Africa.


The penile morphology and bacular structure of five species of African mole rat are described in relation to the method of ovulation, degree of sociality and polygynandry. We predicted that, with an increase in sociality, and a concomitant decrease in polygynandry and sperm competition, there would be a decrease in penis ornamentation (spinosity) and baculum size. In solitary species of African mole rat with marked seasonal reproduction and induced ovulation (Bathyergus suillus and Georychus capensis), males have numerous epidermal spines on the penis. Social, seasonally breeding, induced ovulating mole rats Cryptomys hottentotus natalensis possess less elaborate ornamentation in the form of small protrusions that are rounded at the apex. Two aseasonally breeding eusocial species with spontaneous ovulation Cryptomys damarensis and Heterocephalus glaber have ridges on the penis but lack any elaborate ornamentation. Baculae, however, showed a trend to become proportionally smaller in the solitary species. Our prediction that, with an increase in sociality and a move from induced to spontaneous ovulation, the amount and degree of penile ornamentation declines was, therefore, generally supported.