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The non-sperm components of an ejaculate, such as copulatory plugs, can be essential to male reproductive success. But the costs of these ejaculate components are often considered trivial. In polyandrous species, males are predicted to increase energy allocation to the production of non-sperm components, but this allocation is often condition dependent and the energetic costs of their production have never been quantified. Red-sided garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis parietalis) are an excellent model with which to quantify the energetic costs of non-sperm components of the ejaculate as they exhibit a dissociated reproductive pattern in which sperm production is temporally disjunct from copulatory plug production, mating and plug deposition. We estimated the daily energy expenditure and resting metabolic rate of males after courtship and mating, and used bomb calorimetry to estimate the energy content of copulatory plugs. We found that both daily energy expenditure and resting metabolic rate were significantly higher in small mating males than in courting males, and a single copulatory plug without sperm constitutes 5–18% of daily energy expenditure. To our knowledge, this is the first study to quantify the energetic expense of size-dependent ejaculate strategies in any species.


Originally published in 2015 in the Journal of Experimental Biology, 218: page 1410-1418.

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