Frisky Female Fruit Flies Become More Aggressive After Sex

Summary: According to researchers, female fruit flies become significantly more aggressive following sex as a variety of proteins apparent in semen stimulate behavioral changes.

Source: Oxford University.

Female fruit flies start headbutting each other after mating, becoming significantly more aggressive and intolerant Oxford University research has revealed.

Female fruit flies’ levels of aggression soar after sex, when a variety of proteins, which flow freely in semen, stimulate dramatic behavioural and physiological changes in females. Other changes include increased ovulation, rejecting male advances and loss of interest in sex. Increased post coital levels of aggression may have wider in direct implications on female competition.

Studies in many species have shown an association between increased levels of aggression in females, egg laying and reproduction. Protecting and providing for offspring is often identified as the main motivation for this behaviour. The factors at play in the reproductive process, that trigger such dramatic behavioural changes, have until now, been less clearly understood.

A team of researchers led by Dr Eleanor Bath and Dr Stuart Wigby of the Oxford University Department of Zoology, examined hundreds of fruit flies, assessing the impact of mating on female fruit fly behaviour, and to what degree it alters their levels of aggression. Fruit flies are also known as Drosophila melanogaster, a species of fly that is approximately one-eighth of an inch in length, with red eyes. Fruit flies are known for being drawn to ripe or rotten foods like fruits and vegetables.

The research newly published in Nature Ecology & Evolution, proposed that aggression was potentially stimulated by two factors; either indirectly as a result of costly egg-production, or directly by coming into contact with the components contained in the male’s ejaculate. The findings show that after mating, female fruit flies become evidently more aggressive towards each other when fighting over food, often head-butting and swatting at each other. Specifically, pairs of mated females fought significantly more than virgin pairs. Pairs with at least one newly mated female were also found to be more aggressive towards each other than pairs with two virgin females.

Females are also know to experience a number of other dramatic changes after mating, including increasing their levels of egg production, increasing their feeding rates, and altering their sleeping patterns. Previous research has drawn links between these behavioural changes and proteins found in the seminal fluid, such as the sex-peptide, which is carried in the seminal fluid and binds to sperm. The team were able to determine that females needed to receive sperm to increase their aggression after mating, and sex-peptide was also involved in elevating female aggression.

Copulation may also affect the social tolerance of females in general. Immediately after mating female fruit flies are known to be significantly less receptive to re-mating. Females were found to be equally aggressive towards one another, regardless of whether or not they were able to produce eggs, showing that reproduction was not a contributing factor in their obvious change of temperament.

Image shows a Fruit flies mating.
Fruit flies mating. image is credited to Amy Hong.

Dr Stuart Wigby, Research Fellow at Oxford University, said: ‘A lot is known about male fruit fly behaviour and what affects their levels of aggression, but very little has been published about competition among females. Even taken on its own, our study is useful. If these behavioural changes occur in fruit flies, it is highly likely that they are happening in other insects.’

Now that the relationship between mating and aggression in females is better understood, the team intend to conduct further analysis into the effects of the behavioural change, pinpointing the exact time that their intolerance intensifies, and how long the effects of the sex-peptide last. New research will also work to determine whether the effects carry positive or negative benefits to males and females, who the behavioural change benefits and if it is linked to spousal or offspring protection? Dr Eleanor Bath said: ‘Knowing whether female aggression benefits females in the wild could help us to understand fruit fly population dynamics. Potentially having more aggressive females might result in females doing less well in the wild, meaning that we could potentially use female aggression as a behavioural tool to control pest insect populations.’

Dr Stuart Wigby added: ‘A lot of insect control programmes involve releasing sterile males into the wild. When these males mate with wild females, the females fail to produce viable offspring. It could be that mating with these sterile males also affects female aggression levels. Further research will help us to understand exactly how such affects could help or harm populations, and therefore whether or not they can have a wider use.’

About this neuroscience research article

Source: Oxford University
Image Source: image is credited to Amy Hong.
Video Source: Video is credited to Oxford University.
Original Research: Full open access research for “Sperm and sex peptide stimulate aggression in female Drosophila” by Eleanor Bath, Samuel Bowden, Carla Peters, Anjali Reddy, Joseph A. Tobias, Evan Easton-Calabria, Nathalie Seddon, Stephen F. Goodwin & Stuart Wigby in Nature Ecology and Evolution. Published online May 15 2017 doi:10.1038/s41559-017-0154

Cite This Article

[cbtabs][cbtab title=”MLA”]Oxford University “Frisky Female Fruit Flies Become More Aggressive After Sex.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 15 May 2017.
<>.[/cbtab][cbtab title=”APA”]Oxford University (2017, May 15). Frisky Female Fruit Flies Become More Aggressive After Sex. NeuroscienceNew. Retrieved May 15, 2017 from[/cbtab][cbtab title=”Chicago”]Oxford University “Frisky Female Fruit Flies Become More Aggressive After Sex.” (accessed May 15, 2017).[/cbtab][/cbtabs]


Sperm and sex peptide stimulate aggression in female Drosophila

Female aggression towards other females is associated with reproduction in many taxa, and traditionally thought to be related to the protection or provisioning of offspring, such as through increased resource acquisition. However, the underlying reproductive factors causing aggressive behaviour in females remain unknown. Here we show that female aggression in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster is strongly stimulated by the receipt of sperm at mating, and in part by an associated seminal fluid protein, the sex peptide. We further show that the post-mating increase in female aggression is decoupled from the costs of egg production and from post-mating decreases in sexual receptivity. Our results indicate that male ejaculates can have a surprisingly direct influence on aggression in recipient females. Male ejaculate traits thus influence the female social competitive environment, with potentially far-reaching ecological and evolutionary consequences.

“Sperm and sex peptide stimulate aggression in female Drosophila” by Eleanor Bath, Samuel Bowden, Carla Peters, Anjali Reddy, Joseph A. Tobias, Evan Easton-Calabria, Nathalie Seddon, Stephen F. Goodwin & Stuart Wigby in Nature Ecology and Evolution. Published online May 15 2017 doi:10.1038/s41559-017-0154

Feel free to share this Neuroscience News.
Join our Newsletter
I agree to have my personal information transferred to AWeber for Neuroscience Newsletter ( more information )
Sign up to receive our recent neuroscience headlines and summaries sent to your email once a day, totally free.
We hate spam and only use your email to contact you about newsletters. You can cancel your subscription any time.