In many species, so-called “sneaker males” mimic females to avoid aggression from larger males, and steal mating opportunities. Erica’s latest paper, published this week in the prestigious journal Molecular Biology and Evolution, reveals how sneaker males of the bluehead wrasse achieve their extraordinary feat of subterfuge at a transcriptomic scale.

Erica worked with team members from the Gemmell Lab and North Carolina State University to compare transcriptome-wide gene expression among sneaker males, territorial males and females – in both the brain and the gonads. The work reveals genes that underlie behavioural and morphological mimicry of females by sneaker males. Sneaker males had neural gene expression near-identical to females, supporting the idea that males with alternative reproductive phenotypes have “female-like brains.” In the gonad, morphological female-mimicry by sneaker males was associated with pervasive downregulation of androgenesis genes, consistent with low androgen production in males lacking well-developed secondary sexual characters. To find out more, the full paper can be found here.

The article's publication received a lot of attention, with Erica featuring in a Otago University MediaRelease article, a NZ Herald press release, and also a radio interview in Radio NZ with Jesse Mulligan!

Well done to Erica and her team of collaborators!


Todd EV, Liu H, Lamm MS, Thomas JT, Rutherford K, Thompson K, Godwin JR, Gemmell NJ. (2017) Female mimicry by sneaker males has a transcriptional basis in both the brain and gonad. Molecular Biology and Evolution.