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Female Insects Prefer Dinner To "Handcuffs"

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Justine Alford

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clockMay 15 2014, 19:59 UTC
943 Female Insects Prefer Dinner To "Handcuffs"
University of Derby. Mexican Bushcrickets Mating.

It turns out that many male insects have got this courting thing down to a tee- they treat their mates to a nice slap up meal before or even during the deed. Isn’t that nice? But some males have decided to leave this practice behind in favor of adopting some rather more unpleasant tactics to ensure mating success. Funnily enough, a new study investigating insect mating has revealed that the females don’t take too kindly to this aggressive behavior and kick the male to the curb. I don’t blame them.

Despite being a common practice in the insect world, there exists some uncertainty over the reasons behind gift giving before or during mating. Some believe that males give the female food as a means of distraction so that they can copulate for longer. Others think it may have evolved as a way of ensuring healthier offspring because it will provide nutrients to the female.

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In a collaborative effort led by Professor Vahed, Professor of Entomology at the University of Derby, scientists set out to shed light on the purpose behind this curious behavior by studying the mating of bushcrickets. The researchers looked at 44 bushcricket species and found that the majority displayed gift giving, which usually involved donating the female a big gelatinous ball called a spermatophylax.

Some less generous males, however, didn’t treat the female to dinner. Instead, they’d cling on to the females using a variety of devices in order to prevent her from escaping. Some of the males actually stabbed the female with spikes. Charming. Others played the S&M card and used “handcuff” like devices to ensnare her.

According to Professor Vahed, the females would get pretty hacked off about this and if the male only gave a small or no gift the females would resist by kicking, biting and shifting around to chuck them off.

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“Males who do present females with a spermatophylax don’t receive this kind of resistant behaviour from their partners. Such conflict shows that males who don’t give gifts are trying to ensure they transfer as much sperm into the female as possible (and often more than she wants). We see this forceful approach by males in all bushcricket species where nuptial gifts have been lost,” adds Vahed.

The team therefore came to the conclusion that both gift giving and forceful behavior served to increase fecundity rather than to ensure healthier offspring. The results of the study will be published in Evolution next week.    

“If these ‘bear traps’, ‘spikes’ and ‘handcuffs’ have evolved to prolong sperm transfer in bushcrickets which have lost nuptial gifts, it’s likely that the nuptial gift serves the same purpose in those species that still use it,” said Dr James Gilbert, University of Sussex and one of the researchers involved in the study.

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So there you have it, gentlemen, don’t forget to wine and dine your lady, or you might just get a kick in the face. 


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