The function of the love dart in certain species of terrestrial snails is unknown. In Helix aspersa, the dart is a sharp calcareous structure that is used to pierce the partner's skin during courtship. When expelled, the dart is covered with a thick mucus. The hypothesis tested here is that the mucus contains a biologically active substance. Extracts of the digitiform glands that produce this mucus were applied to parts of the reproductive system in vitro. The extracts triggered an initial reconfiguration of the copulatory canal that caused the bursa tract diverticulum to become more accessible to the spermatophore. The reconfiguration of the copulatory canal also closed off the tract leading to the bursa copulatrix, a sperm-digesting organ. A few minutes after the initial contraction, the peristaltic contractions in the diverticulum became significantly more frequent. This latter effect continued for at least 1 h, provided that the mucus extract remained in the saline bath. The minimum effective dosage was less than the 2.2 mg of mucus transferred with the dart. Sperm competition is expected in Helix aspersa since multiple matings occur before eggs are laid. By influencing the female organs involved in the processing of foreign sperm, the dart shooter may increase the chance that his sperm will fertilise eggs.

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