The evolution of laterality, that is the biased use of laterally paired, morphologically symmetrical organs, has attracted the interest of researchers from a variety of disciplines. It is, however, difficult to quantify the fitness benefits of laterality because many organs, such as human hands, possess multimodal functions. Males of the earwig Labidura riparia (Insecta: Dermaptera: Labiduridae) have morphologically similar laterally paired penises, only one of which is used for inseminating the female during a single copulation bout, and thus provide a rare opportunity to address how selection pressure may shape the evolution of population-level laterality. Our population studies revealed that in 10 populations, located at 2.23–43.3° north, the right penis is predominantly used for copulating (88.6%). A damaged penis was found in 23% of rare left-handers, suggesting that the left penis can function as a spare when the right one is damaged. By pairing L. riparia females with surgically manipulated males, we found that males forced to use the right penis outperformed left-handed males in copulation (the probability of establishing genital coupling during the 1-hr observation period: odds ratio [OR] of 3.50) and insemination (probability of transferring a detectable amount of sperm: OR of 2.94). This right-handed advantage may be due to the coiled morphology of the sperm storage organ with a right-facing opening. Thus, female genital morphology may play a significant role in the evolution of handedness and may have acted as a driving force to reduce penis number in related taxa.
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