Intra-individual variation in sperm tail length in murine rodents

W. G. Breed, M. Bauer, R. Wade, N. Thitipramote, J. Suwajarat, Lisa Yelland

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19 Citations (Scopus)


In eutherian mammals, there are marked interspecific differences in sperm head shape and tail length. In a few species, sperm head variability occurs but intra-individual variation in sperm tail length has rarely been investigated or commented upon. Here, we ask the question: Do murine rodent species that have variable sperm head shapes exhibit greater intra-individual variation in sperm midpiece and total tail lengths than closely related species where little, or no, sperm head variability occurs? From three separate lineages, we selected three pairs of murine rodents, one of which has monomorphic, and the other variable, sperm head shape. These were from southern Asia the bandicoot rats Bandicota bengalensis and Bandicota indica, from southern Africa the veld rats, Aethomys chrysophilus and Aethomys ineptus and from Australia the fawn hopping mouse Notomys cervinus and the spinifex hopping mouse Notomys alexis. Cauda epididymal sperm smears were prepared and sperm midpiece and total tail lengths were determined. A linear mixed-effects model was used to estimate intra-individual variance. The results showed that in all three species where there are variable sperm head shapes (B. indica, A. ineptus and N. alexis), statistically significantly greater intra-individual variability of sperm midpiece and total tail lengths occurs (P<0.0001 in all cases). These species all have relatively smaller testes mass compared with the closely related species with monomorphic sperm populations. This suggests that depressed levels of intermale sperm competition may result in the occurrence of variability in not only the divergent sperm head shape but also in the length of the midpiece as well as that of the total length of the sperm tail.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)299-304
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Zoology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Aethomys
  • Bandicota
  • Notomys
  • Sperm variation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology

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