Ecology and Evolution of Phenotypic Plasticity in the Penis and Cirri of Barnacles
Integrative and Comparative Biology
Most barnacles are sessile, simultaneous hermaphrodites that reproduce by copulation. This is achieved through the extension of a muscular penis, famous for being the proportionally largest in the animal kingdom. The penis is a long cylindrical or conical organ, composed of a series of folded rings, allowing it to stretch to great lengths. The penises are covered with chemosensory setae allowing them to seek out receptive neighbors. For many species, the condition of the penis changes seasonally. In the most extreme circumstances, it degenerates and is shed during the first post-mating molt and is re-grown for the next mating season. Barnacle penises have been shown to exhibit phenotypic plasticity in response to many different challenges. When exposed to heavy waves, diameter is increased by thickening both the cuticle and muscles. When mates are far, length increases by adding ringed annulations. Experiments have shown that these plastic traits are modular, capable of changing independently from each other and that they improve mating ability. Alternate strategies to increase reproductive ability by barnacles include the production of dwarf and complemental males, sperm casting and sperm leakage, and aerial copulation. All of these mating strategies may have important implications for the study of reproductive biology, life history, and sex allocation theory.
Hoch, J. Matthew; Daniel T. Schneck; and Christopher J. Neufeld. 2016. "Ecology and Evolution of Phenotypic Plasticity in the Penis and Cirri of Barnacles." Integrative and Comparative Biology 56, (4): 728-740. doi:10.1093/icb/icw006.