Divergent mating patterns and a unique mode of external sperm transfer in Zoraptera: an enigmatic group of pterygote insects
A remarkable external sperm transfer is described for the first time in a species of a group of winged insects (Pterygota), the enigmatic Zoraptera. Mating and sperm transfer of two species of the order were examined in detail, documented, and compared with each other and with patterns described for other species belonging to the order. The behavior differs strikingly in Zorotypus impolitus and Zorotypus magnicaudelli. A copula is performed by males and females of the latter, as it is also the case in other zorapteran species and generally in pterygote insects. In striking contrast to this, males of Z. impolitus do not copulate but deposit small (100 μm in diameter) spermatophores externally on the abdomen of the female. Each spermatophore contains only one giant spermatozoon (3 mm long and 3 μm wide), a unique feature in the entire Hexapoda. External sperm transfer in Pterygota is a highly unusual case of evolutionary reversal. The very small relict group Zoraptera displays a uniform general morphology but exhibits very different reproductive structures and patterns of mating behavior. This may be an extreme form of a more general situation in insects, with a specific form of selection resulting in an accelerated rate of evolution in the reproductive system.