Material heterogeneity of male genitalia reduces genital damage in a bushcricket during sperm removal behaviour

Sperm removal behaviour (SRB) is known in many animals, and male genital structures are often involved in the SRB, e.g. rubbing female genitalia vigorously. However, it remains unclear how those male genital structures function properly without severe genital damage during SRB. In the present study, we focused on the bushcricket Metaplastes ornatus and examined the biomechanics of male and female genital structures, involved in their SRB as a model case. During an initial phase of mating, males of this species thrust their subgenital plate with hook-like spurs and many microscopic spines into the female genital chamber. By moving the subgenital plate back-and-forth, males stimulate females, and this stimulation induces the ejection of sperm previously stored in females. We aimed to uncover the mechanics of the interaction between the subgenital plate and genital chamber during SRB. The genital morphology and its material composition were investigated using modern imaging and microscopy techniques. The obtained results showed a pronounced material heterogeneity in the subgenital plate and the genital chamber. The material heterogeneity was completely absent in that of a second bushcricket species, Poecilimon veluchianus, which does not exhibit SRB. Finite element simulations showed that the specific material heterogeneity can redistribute the stress in the subgenital plate of M. ornatus and, thereby, reduces stress concentration during SRB. This may explain why only a few examined males had a broken spur. We suggest that the observed structural features and material heterogeneity in M. ornatus are adaptations to their SRB.

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