The accessory glands of reproductive systems in both female and male insects produce secretions that aid in sperm maintenance, transport, and fertilization. In addition, accessory glands in females provide protective coatings for eggs. Accessory glands can be organs distinct from the main reproductive tract, or they can be specialized regions of the gonadal ducts (ducts leading from the ovaries or testes). Typically, glandular tissue is composed of two cell types: one that is secretory and the other that forms a duct. The interplay between male and female secretions from accessory glands is a key element in the design of diverse mating systems.
ACCESSORY GLANDS OF FEMALES Management of Sperm and Other Male Contributions
Sperm management by females involves a wide range of processes, including liberation of sperm from a spermatophore, digestion of male secretions and sperm, transport of sperm to and from the spermatheca, maintenance of stored sperm, and fertilization.
Accessory gland secretions can have digestive functions important in sperm management. First, digestive breakdown of the sper-matophore can free encapsulated sperm for fertilization and storage. Second, male contributions can provide an important nutritional benefit to their mates. Female secretions can digest the secretory components of male seminal fluid to facilitate a nutritive role. In addition, females can digest unwanted sperm to transform it into nutrients. Third, female secretions in some species are required to digest sperm coverings that inhibit fertilization.
Transfer of sperm to and from the spermatheca is generally accomplished by a combination of chemical signals and muscular contractions. Secretions of female accessory glands in some species increase sperm motility or appear to attract sperm toward the sper-mathecae. Transport of fluid out through the wall of the spermatheca may also create negative pressure that draws in sperm.
Sperm can be stored for some length of time in spermathecae, with the record belonging to ant queens that maintain sperm viability for a decade or more. Secretions of spermathecal glands are poorly characterized, and how sperm is maintained for such extended periods is not known. Spermathecal tissue seems to create a chemical environment that maintains sperm viability, perhaps through reduced metabolism. A nutritional function is also possible.
Transport of sperm out of storage can be facilitated by the secretions of the spermathecal gland, which presumably activate quiescent sperm to move toward the primary reproductive tract. One potential function of female accessory glands that has been explored only slightly is the production of hormonelike substances that modulate reproduction functions.
Production of Egg Coverings
Female accessory glands that produce protective coverings for eggs are termed colleterial glands. Colleterial glands have been best characterized in cockroaches, which produce an oothecal case surrounding their eggs. Interestingly, the left and right glands are anatomically different and have different products. Separation of the chemicals permits reactions to begin only at the time of mixing and ootheca formation. Other protective substances produced by glands include toxins and antibacterials.
Nourishment for Embryos or Larvae
Viviparous insects use accessory glands to provide nourishment directly to developing offspring. Tsetse flies and sheep keds are dip-terans that retain single larvae within their reproductive tracts and provide them with nourishment. They give birth to mature larvae ready to pupate. The gland that produces the nourishing secretion, rich in amino acids and lipids, is known as the milk gland. The Pacific beetle roach, Diploptera punctata, is also viviparous and provides its developing embryos with nourishment secreted by the brood sac, an expanded portion of oviduct.
ACCESSORY GLANDS OF MALES
Accessory glands of the male reproductive tract have diverse functions related to sperm delivery and to the design of specific mating systems.
Males of many insects use spermatophores to transfer sperm to females. A spermatophore is a bundle of sperm contained in a protective packet. Accessory glands secrete the structural proteins necessary for the spermatophore’s construction. Males of the yellow mealworm, Tenebrio molitor, have two distinct accessory glands, one bean-shaped and the other tubular (Fig. 1). Bean-shaped accessory glands contain cells of at least seven types and produce a semisolid material that forms the wall and core of the spermatophore. Tubular accessory glands contain only one type of cell, and it produces a mix of water-soluble proteins of unknown function. Spermatophores are not absolutely required for sperm transfer in all insects. In many insects, male secretions create a fluid medium for sperm transfer.
Effects on Sperm Management and on the Female
The effects of male accessory gland secretions on the female are best known for the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, in which the function of several gene products has been explored at the molecular
FIGURE 1 Male reproductive system of T. molitor, showing testes (T), ejaculatory duct (EJD), tubular accessory gland (TAG), and bean-shaped accessory gland (BAG) .
FIGURE 2 Accessory gland of D. melanogaster. (A) The cells in this normal accessory gland express b-galactosidase driven by a promoter of a gene for an accessory gland protein. (B) A transgenic accessory gland, cells expressing the gene have been selectively killed after eclosion. These flies were used to explore the function of accessory gland secretions. In transgenic males, accessory glands are small and translationally inert.
level. Since insects have a diversity of mating systems, the specific functions of accessory gland secretions are likely to reflect this variation.
In Drosophila, the accessory glands are simple sacs consisting of a single layer of secretory cells around a central lumen (Fig. 2). Genes for more than 80 accessory gland proteins have been identified so far. These genes code for hormonelike substances and enzymes, as well as for many novel proteins. The gene products or their derivatives have diverse functions, including an increased egg-laying rate, a reduced inclination of females to mate again, increased effectiveness of sperm transfer to a female’s spermatheca, and various toxic effects most likely involved in the competition of sperm from different males. A side effect of this toxicity is a shortened life span for females. Other portions of the reproductive tract contribute secretions with diverse roles. For example, the ejaculatory bulb secretes one protein that is a major constituent of the mating plug, and another that has antibacterial activity.