Awkward Insect Moments: Scientists Discover That Offspring Of Flies Can Resemble The Previous Sexual Partner Of The Mother Rather Than The Actual Father

220px-Musca_domestica_PortraitThis must make for some awkward moments at fly delivery rooms: “Look Honey he has your first lover’s eyes!”

Researchers at the University of New South Wales have confirmed a new form of non-genetic inheritance in flies. The research found that offspring can resemble a mother’s previous sexual partner of flies rather than the actual father. The size of offspring was determined not by the actual father but the previous sexual partner of the mother. It is an fascinating example of telegony, which dates back to ancient Greece and was once discredited under modern genetic theories.


Telegony holds that offspring can inherit the characteristics of a previous mate of the female parent, a theory that Encyclopedia Britannica says is now nothing but superstition.

The name may come from Telegony is a lost ancient Greek epic poem about Telegonus, son of Odysseus by Circe. His name is”born far away” – much better than “bastardo” in modern Italian.

UNSW Australia scientists Dr Angela Crean, Professor Russell Bonduriansky and Dr Anna Kopps found that the size of the young was determined by the size of the first male the mother mated with, rather than the second male that sired the offspring. The team produced large and small male flies by feeding them diets as larvae that were high or low in nutrients. They then mated the immature females with either a large or a small male.
Once the females had matured, they were mated again with either a big or a small male:
“We found that even though the second male sired the offspring, offspring size was determined by what the mother’s previous mating partner ate as a maggot.”

Crean said that “Our discovery complicates our entire view of how variation is transmitted across generations, but also opens up exciting new possibilities and avenues of research.” Yes, and a new exciting defense in fly divorce proceedings.

Source: Science Daily

17 thoughts on “Awkward Insect Moments: Scientists Discover That Offspring Of Flies Can Resemble The Previous Sexual Partner Of The Mother Rather Than The Actual Father”

  1. wrxdave, they are proposing a non-genetic mechanism.

    The researchers propose that the effect is due to molecules in the seminal fluid of the first mate being absorbed by the female’s immature eggs. The mature eggs are impermeable to seminal fluid, so only the first mate’s seminal fluid influences the semen-mediated effects.

    The source article can be found here:
    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ele.12373/pdf

  2. Shaking, I’m curious if the skin tone was right out of the womb, or if it evolved as they grew?

  3. i have 2nd cousins who are identical twins one light one dark which is hilarious since they both parents are dark skinned and they both look just like their dad which pisses off their mom oh whelp

  4. This can happen. I had a friend who said the color of the siblings in his family went from pure white to pure black.

  5. 1. Now curious what the original title was.

    2. I’m very skeptical of this study as it does not seem to even theorize a mechanism for the result noted. Lots of research gets it wrong (cold fusion?). It’s not really science until it’s repeatable.

  6. You made him change the title. It was pretty funny. Would have gotten more reads that way. ๐Ÿ™‚ Just finish a book called Brilliant Blunders about famous scientists who made major mistakes and the first the book covered was Darwin who had no idea how genetics worked. Plus, he was a poor mathematician so he could not figure out the genetic probabilities.

    Still this is going to make a mess of everything. ๐Ÿ™‚ When they say you are having sex with all your partner’s partners they are being a little more specific now.

  7. The truth comes crashing down when fly children ask why they look like the fly milk man.

  8. There was a fly experiment back in 1958. The spider got him. But someone killed both spider and fly. Was this murder? End of experiment!

  9. Squeeky would say this is insect porn and should be banned. But, she will laugh @ the “pervious” Freudian slip because she would likely make the same slip.

  10. I need to read the source, but from your brief summary, there was not in fact any true genetic variations between the sires, only a dietary difference in there diets as juveniles to produce the large or small males. So how does this disprove anything genetically, or prove telogeny?

    The DNA of each sire would have to be sequenced and then that of the offspring to demonstrate that the traits were passed and sustainable across many generations. Even then I would suspect that the mother was retaining DNA from the original partner (in fact every partnrr) in a mechanism to increase survival odds for her near infinite number of creepy crawly squirmy offspring.

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