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Sexually dimorphic legs in a neotropical harvestman (Arachnida, Opiliones): Ornament or weapon?

Behavioural Processes
Publication Date
  • Allometry
  • Gonyleptidae
  • Intrasexual Contest
  • Neosadocus
  • Sensilla
  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • Spines


The evolution of sexually dimorphic traits has been the focus of much theoretical work, but empirical approaches to this topic have not been equally prolific. Males of the neotropical family Gonyleptidae usually present a strong fourth pair of legs armed with spines, but their functional significance is unknown. We investigated the putative functions of the leg armature in the harvestman Neosadocus maximus. Being a non-visual species. the spines on male legs can only be perceived by females through physical contact. Thus, we could expect females to touch the armature on the legs of their mates if they were to evaluate it. However, we found no support for this hypothesis. We did show that (1) leg armature is used as a weapon in contests between mates and (2) spines and associated sensilla are sexually dimorphic structures involved in ""nipping behavior"", during which a winner emerged in most fights. Finally, we demonstrate that five body structures directly involved in male-male fights show positive allometry in males. presenting slopes higher than 1, whereas the same structures show either no or negative allometry in the case of females. In conclusion, leg armature in male harvestmen is clearly used as a device in intrasexual contests. (C) 2008 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

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