Copulatory courtship by bushcricket genital titillators revealed by functional morphology, μCT scanning for 3D reconstruction and female sense structures.
Abstract Genitalia are rapidly evolving morphological structures most likely under sexual selection. Due to their internal nature they are often hidden inside the body, thus morpho-functional studies of animal genitalia are broadly lacking. Males of some bushcricket taxa bear paired genital appendices called titillators, the exact function of which is unknown since they are obscured inside the female body during pairing. To investigate titillator morphology and possible function during copulation, we studied the bushcricket Metrioptera roeselii (Hagenbach, 1822) using a novel combination of independent, yet complementary, techniques. Copulating pairs were snap-frozen and scanned by X-ray micro-computed tomography (μCT) to visualize the coupling of male and female genitalia in situ . Video recordings of copulating pairs also showed rhythmical insertion of male titillators into the female's genital chamber, where they percuss a softened structure on the female's subgenital plate. Movements did not induce damage to the female's structure, which lacks any sclerotized genital counterparts. Instead, scanning electron microscopy and histological sections show the female subgenital plate to be covered with two different types of sensory receptors at the contact zone between the male's titillator and the female genital chamber. We interpret the non-harmful function of the titillator processes, the lack of a genital counter-structure and the presence of sensory cells on the female's subgenital plate as indicators of a copulatory courtship function of titillators, subject to sexual selection by female choice.