“This is an important distinction, as even if the female consumes some of the ejaculate in those internal fertilizers, at least some of the sperm remains inside in the reproductive tract,” he said. “For an external fertilizer with short-term sperm storage, if the female doesn’t lay eggs in time, the male loses his chance to fertilize the eggs.”
To help combat this problem, squid sperm and the sperm of many other animals may contain manipulative compounds that stimulate female reproduction. So far, over 80 proteins have been identified in other types of sperm that could do the following: decrease female receptivity to further matings, encourage her to lay eggs sooner, stimulate ovulation and egg production, affect how long females store sperm and affect egg fertility.
Females, on the other hand, can control whether or not they will consume the sperm or ejaculate.
This raises numerous questions, such as whether females sometimes use males as a food source, if females sample sperm to determine its quality and if they eat it to allow other sperm to fertilize eggs.
Tom Tregenza, a professor of evolutionary ecology at the University of Exeter and director of research for CLES Cornwall, told Discovery News that it’s been known for some time that insects get nutritional benefits from eating male sperm packets (squid, certain insects and other species encase sperm in a membrane sealed spring-loaded package), “but this finding of exactly the same sort of thing having evolved completely independently in such a distantly related group is really fascinating.”
He agrees that the behavior can put pressure on males, which have to balance providing enough sperm for fertilization, but perhaps not so much that females start to rely upon it as a regular “tempting meal.”
“As the authors point out,” Tregenza added, “she might even choose to eat the sperm packets from less attractive males and use the sperm from more attractive ones for fertilizing her eggs.”