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Dead, live guppies vie for paternity

Females can use sperm months after mates go belly up

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9:28pm, June 4, 2013

Among wild guppies in Trinidad streams, a female (left) can store sperm from a male (right). In a new experiment, female Trinidadian guppies lived much longer than males and still used sperm left over from the generation of the grandfathers of current males. 

After death, male guppies can keep on siring offspring because females store sperm for so long. As a result, a living male in a stream in Trinidad can end up competing with long-gone fish from his grandfather’s generation.

At its most posthumously successful, stored ghost sperm sired about one in four of the offspring among wild guppies released into a stream, evolutionary biologist Andrés López-Sepulcre of École Normale Supérieure in Paris and his colleagues report June 5 in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Biologists have long known that female Poecilia reticulata guppies store sperm. The cells clump in little pockets in a female’s ovarian cavity and feed on sugars released by ovarian tissue. Storage in itself isn’t unusual, López-Sepulcre says. Some crabs, turtles, lizards, bats and other creatures preserve sperm for later use.

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