The development of male characters, notably a penis and a vas deferens, on the female (the phenomenon of ‘imposex’) of the dog-whelk, Nucella lapillus, is described. Three stages are recognized: an ‘early’ stage involving the formation of a vas deferens and a small penis, an ‘intermediate’ stage characterized by the enlargement of the female penis to a size approaching that of the male and a ‘late’ stage during which the female opening (vulva) is occluded by overgrowth of vas deferens tissue. This blockage of the pallial oviduct prevents the release of egg capsules and renders the female sterile. The extent and cause of such reproductive failure is evident from the high incidence of females containing aborted capsules in declining populations close to sources of tributyltin (TBT) contamination. These same populations comprise fewer females than expected and it would appear that the accumulation of aborted capsules within the pallial oviduct eventually causes the premature death of the female.
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