The acanthocephalan parasite Acanthocephalus dirus develops from the egg to the cystacanth stage inside the freshwater isopod Caecidotea intermedius. We have shown previously that cystacanth-infected male C. intermedius are less likely to initiate mating attempts with females than uninfected males in competitive situations. Here, we used a field-based experiment to examine whether cystacanth-infected males were also less likely to initiate mating attempts with females in noncompetitive situations. We found that infected males were less responsive to females than uninfected males, and we propose that the cystacanth-related change in male mating behavior is mediated by a change in the mating response of males to females rather than male–male competition. We then examined whether cystacanth-related changes in reproductive function, i.e., sperm content and fertilization ability, could explain this variation in male mating behavior. We found that cystacanth-infected males contained both developing and mature sperm and fertilized as many eggs as uninfected males. Thus, we propose that changes in reproductive function are unlikely to explain cystacanth-related variation in male mating behavior in C. intermedius.
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