Revisiting telegony: offspring inherit an acquired characteristic of their mother's previous mate

Ecol Lett. 2014 Dec;17(12):1545-52. doi: 10.1111/ele.12373. Epub 2014 Sep 30.


Newly discovered non-genetic mechanisms break the link between genes and inheritance, thereby also raising the possibility that previous mating partners could influence traits in offspring sired by subsequent males that mate with the same female ('telegony'). In the fly Telostylinus angusticollis, males transmit their environmentally acquired condition via paternal effects on offspring body size. We manipulated male condition, and mated females to two males in high or low condition in a fully crossed design. Although the second male sired a large majority of offspring, offspring body size was influenced by the condition of the first male. This effect was not observed when females were exposed to the first male without mating, implicating semen-mediated effects rather than female differential allocation based on pre-mating assessment of male quality. Our results reveal a novel type of transgenerational effect with potential implications for the evolution of reproductive strategies.

Keywords: Condition; diet; inheritance of acquired traits; non-genetic inheritance; paternal effect; plasticity; seminal proteins; telegony.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Size*
  • Diptera / physiology*
  • Female
  • Inheritance Patterns*
  • Male
  • Phenotype
  • Semen / physiology
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal