Many fishes are characterized by intense sperm competition between males that use alternative mating tactics. In externally fertilizing fishes, males’ proximity to females during spawning can be an important determinant of fertilization success. Here, we assess how mating tactic, body length, speed during streak spawns, and periphery cover affect males’ proximity to females during sperm competition in the externally fertilizing bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus). Bluegill are characterized by three mating tactics referred to as parental, sneaker, and satellite. Parentals are territorial and construct nests, while sneakers use a streaking behavior, and satellites use female mimicry to steal fertilizations from parentals. We show that a small body length is important for sneakers but not for satellites to obtain a close position to the female during spawning. Specifically, smaller sneakers obtain a closer position to females than larger sneakers in part by positioning themselves closer on the periphery of a parental’s nest before streaking but show no difference in the speed at which they streak. The amount of peripheral vegetation around a parental’s nest did not appear to affect proximity of sneakers to females, and there was no relationship between the amount of peripheral vegetation and the frequency of intrusions by either sneakers or satellites. Finally, parentals were farther from the female when a sneaker or satellite intruded than when they spawned alone with the female.
Filming Bluegills during breeding season