Sexual size dimorphism and sexual selection in turtles (order testudines)

James F. Berry*, Richard Shine

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

302 Citations (Scopus)


This paper combines published and original data on sexual size dimorphism, reproductive behavior, and habitat types in turtles. Our major finding is that observed patterns of sexual size dimorphism correlate with habitat type and male mating strategy. (1) In most terrestrial species, males engage in combat with each other. Males typically grow larger than females. (2) In semiaquatic and "bottom-walking" aquatic species, male combat is less common, but males often forcibly inseminate females. As in terrestrial species, males are usually larger than females. (3) In truly aquatic species, male combat and forcible insemination are rare. Instead, males utilize elaborate precoital displays, and female choice is highly important. Males are usually smaller than females. 

We interpret these correlations between sexual behavior and size dimorphism in terms of sexual selection theory: males are larger than females when large male size evolves as an adaptation to increase success in male combat, or to enable forcible insemination of females. In contrast, males are usually smaller than females where small size in males evolves to increase mobility (and hence, ability to locate females), or because selection for increased fecundity may result in increased female size. In turtle species with male combat or forcible insemination, the degree of male size superiority increases with mean species body size.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)185-191
Number of pages7
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1980
Externally publishedYes


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