9 Extreme Bug Mating Rituals

Romance, dance dates, fancy gifts, and chastity
belts… Murderous femme fatales, jealous dudes, extortion,
and mind-control… Game of Thrones may be back on the air, but
there’s another world filled with even more violence, treachery, and plot-twists than
your average Lannister party… The sex lives of insects and spiders. It’s kind of a free-for-all. [INTRO] [1. Praying Mantis ] Perhaps no other insect is more associated
with their bad mating behavior than the female praying mantis, who’s known for her tendency
to decapitate and then devour male suitors. And okay, yeah, the rumors are based in truth.
Kind of. A lot of mantis ladies do this. But mantis sexual cannibalism is actually
less common than you might think — it happens in about 25 percent of matings in the wild.
And it isn’t typically required for successful fertilization. That said, eating your mate comes with a couple
of nice perks. For one, it’s a free meal. Female mantises are bigger than their partners,
and if they’re really hungry, a uh, preoccupied male is an easy target. Generally, a starving
or malnourished female is much more likely to chow down on her date than a well-fed one. Beheading their partner in mid-copulation
may also offer females an advantage that’s a little more macabre. You’d think severing a brain mid-hump would
end the mating, but it turns out that disconnecting the male’s brain and his body actually sparks
more spasms — and more sperm. And though I’m sure any male would prefer
to keep his life and wander off to mate another day, those who do wind up as dinner may keep
females better fed, increasing their chances of passing along their genes. [2. Honey Bee] Scientists still aren’t sure whether some
male mantises deliberately offer themselves up as a snack, but they’re not the only
insects who engage in sexual suicide… In the caste system of a honey bee hive, every
bee knows its role, and male drones aren’t much more than sperm donors. They don’t gather pollen, or help maintain
larvae or the hive’s architecture. They don’t fight off intruders. Really, their only job is to find queens from
other hives, mate with them in mid-flight, and go out in a blaze of glory. See, when a successful drone uncouples from
his queen, his penis and some abdominal tissues are ripped out of him, and, well, he dies. His passion literally rips his guts out. Take
that, poets! Ms. Queen Bee, on the other hand, can potentially
mate with dozens of drones over several mating flights, tucking their sperm away for future
use over the next few years of egg-laying within the safety of her hive. But don’t think unsuccessful drones have
it any better — because come autumn, those freeloaders get kicked out of the hive by
their sisters, and are left to freeze to death. Then there are the more — can we call them
romantic? — bugs. The ones who sing and dance and put on shows, or woo their loves with
special gifts. [3. Fireflies] When it comes to impressive visual displays,
it’s hard to compete with a firefly’s flashy light show. These flying beetles have special light organs
in their abdomens that contain a compound called luciferin, which reacts with incoming
oxygen to create that classic firefly glow. The animals regulate this inflow of oxygen
to create blinking patterns, and each species uses its own individual flash code to attract
mates, almost like a visual morse code. A hopeful male flies around in the dark, blinking
his little heart out, and if his lightshow is good enough to catch a choosy female’s
eye, she’ll start signalling back at him. A flashy display is important, but a hopeful
male also has to bring gifts if he hopes to retain his lady friend’s interest. Researchers from Tufts University recently
found that female Photinus fireflies ultimately selected their mates based on the size of
their so-called nuptial gifts, not their light display. And by “gift,” I mean “packet of sperm.” During copulation, a male passes along a pile
of sperm wrapped up in a nutritious, coil-shaped protein packet called a spermatophore that
increases female fertility by providing her developing oocytes with extra energy. The larger the gift, the more likely she’ll
accept her suitor and make him a father. Researchers haven’t yet figured out how
the female can tell which males can offer them a bigger packet. But to a female firefly, size does matter. [4. Dung Beetle] Other animals woo with simpler gifts, and
nothing wins the fair heart of a lady dung beetle like a nice round ball of poo. Poop is everything to a dung beetle. They
collect it, eat it, and even raise their children in it. There’s a reason why we call them dung beetles. After bumping into each other at, say, a fresh
elephant or cow patty, some dung beetles form a pair bond, rolling their own giant dung
ball off into the sunset together. Once they find a nice soft piece of land,
they’ll bury their precious poo-ball, and start mating, sometimes in tunnels through
the dung itself. The female lays her eggs in smaller brood
balls, which will be a nice snack for her grubs once they hatch. In many species, one or both parents stick
around and continue to care for their offspring as they mature — a rare behavior in the insect
world. Real salt-of-the-Earth, those dung beetles. But not everyone is impressed with poop. Some
ladies prefer more conventional displays, like sweet dance moves. [5. Peacock Spider] At just a few millimeters long, furry Australian
peacock spiders are tiny. But they’ve still got style — I’m talking the wardrobe of
Elton John and the dance skills of Channing Tatum. To attract female attention, a male starts
out by vibrating his abdomen and waving one pair of legs around like he’s directing
traffic. Once he’s got an audience, he pulls out
the big guns, extending his colorful, iridescent abdominal flaps and excitedly flipping them
up behind his head like a peacock’s tail. Then he shimmies around, giddily shaking his
legs in the air, bouncing from side to side, drumming the ground and shaking what his mama
gave him. It’s all very adorable. If the object of his affection is suitably
impressed, she’ll allow him to mate with her. If she isn’t… he’d better pack
up and get out of dodge quick, or he’ll end up as her dinner. [6. Mayfly] For some insect species, like the mayfly,
there is no life at all after mating. After spending a couple of years in freshwater
in their aquatic nymph stage, mayflies finally complete their lifecycle when they hatch into
delicate winged adults. Often entire local populations hatch at the
same time, in a winged frenzy of sometimes millions of insects. One Mississippi River population hatches in
hordes of around 18 trillion animals! This synchronicity lowers the chance of any
one mayfly getting eaten, while the general orgy environment increases their chances of
getting laid… which is literally their sole mission in life. Seriously, they can’t even eat. They don’t
have functional mouthparts or a working digestive system. And once they hatch, the party doesn’t last
long. Most species don’t live as adults for more
than 24 hours, and one species only lasts five minutes — a record in the insect world. No wonder the mayfly is classified under the
order Ephemeroptera [eff-em-er-OP-ti-ruh], from the word ephemeral, or fleeting. Mayflies mate in mid-air, above the water,
and the female then lays her eggs on the water’s surface before collapsing. The dying females provide a smorgasbord for
local fish, the males go off to die on land, and their fertilized eggs sink to the bottom
of the water where they’ll eventually hatch into nymphs, destined to spend only a single,
glorious day in the air. While short-lived insects like mayflies need
to mate fast, other species like to take their sweet time. [7. Soapberry Bug ] Meet the long and colorful soapberry bug. In certain climates, female soapberry bugs
face higher mortality rates than males, which leads to a skewed sex ratio and a whole lot
of dudes competing for relatively few females. Not only that, but like many insect species,
females often mate with a number of males, and it’s usually the sperm of the last male
in the lineup that actually fertilizes her eggs. This means that male soapberry bugs have to
fight to /find/ females — and then fight again to be the last guy on her dance card. One way they do this is by prolonging copulation,
even after insemination is long over. Males can hang on for hours, days, or even
more than a week, withdrawing only long enough for the female to lay eggs. This type of mating guarding can get so intense
that some males will keep clutching their mates even after the females have died. Luckily, matings tend to be a lot quicker
when populations are more balanced since competition isn’t as high. [8. Fruit fly ] On the other hand, if you’re a male Drosophila
melanogaster [meh-luh-no-GAS-ter] fruitfly, it may pay to be the first in line, not the
last. Why? Because their seminal fluid contains
special mind-controlling proteins that affect the female’s behavior. Some of these proteins spark cause egg production,
while others seem to have an almost hypnotic effect, making her less interested in sex
with other males. Presumably both of those things give her mate
a reproductive edge over his competitors. One study out of University of Washington
suggests that the more seminal fluid a female takes in, the greater the influence her mate
has on her reproductive behavior. That seems maybe a little messed up, but when
it comes to skeezy mating tactics, one bug really takes the lowdown prize. [9. Waterstrider] Perhaps you’ve see a long-legged waterstrider,
gliding over the surface of a pond with all the grace of an Olympic skater. Don’t be fooled — when it comes to mating,
the tactics these guys use are harsh. When a male is in the mood to mate, he just
jumps on the nearest female without bothering to court her first. If she’s not into it, she can actually block
her vagina with a hard genital shield — sort of like a chastity belt — and hope he moves
on. If he doesn’t move on, though, she might
be in trouble. He’ll start using his legs to tap out a
specific rhythm on the water, attracting underwater predators like fish and backswimmer bugs. Because those predators attack from below,
a pinned female waterstrider knows she’s the one most likely to get snatched and eaten. So she’ll lower her shield and give in to
stop her mate from tapping. Stay classy, waterstriders. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow,
which was brought to you by our patrons on Patreon. If you want to help support this
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