The role of sperm number and quality in male competitiveness was investigated using in vitro fertilization experiments with bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus). Bluegill males use one of three mating tactics: ‘sneakers’, which streak spawn; ‘satellites’, which mimic females; and ‘parentals’, which are territorial. The in vitro experiments mimicked natural spawning by incorporating these males’ mean proximity to eggs and timing of sperm release. Using a maximum‐likelihood algorithm, raffle equations were fit to paternity data, which revealed a strong effect of sperm number on male competitiveness. There was no difference in sperm flagellum length, curvilinear swim speed or path linearity among the three male mating types, and these traits did not explain any additional variation in male competitiveness. It was estimated that, given closer proximity to eggs, satellites need release only 0.34 times as many sperm as parentals to obtain equal paternity. Despite being farther from the eggs and releasing sperm about half a second after parentals, sneakers need only release 0.58 times as many sperm as parentals to obtain equal paternity. Thus, the increased competitiveness of sneakers’ sperm must come from a component of sperm quality other than speed or length.
Fish were collected from the lake and brought to lab, ejaculate collected