Female Dragonflies Fake Their Deaths To Avoid Annoying Males

Well, it's certainly a novel way of getting out of a bad situation. Michal Hykel/Shutterstock

Robin Andrews 28 Apr 2017, 22:03

So, you’re in a bar, or on a bus, or grabbing a coffee, something like that – and that guy that kept grinning at you like a deranged werewolf decides to saunter on over, say hello, and strike up a highly unwanted flirtatious conversation. No matter how many hints you drop, he persists in trying to win you over – so what do you do?

Well, you could always take a cue from female dragonflies, who have come up with a rather effective way off putting off overly aggressive male suitors. When push comes to shove, they plummet to the ground, spasm around a bit, then play dead.

Writing in the journal Ecology, Rassim Khelifa – an entomologist from the University of Zurich with a penchant for the hovering critters – describes this as an “extreme sexual conflict resolution,” which we suppose is fair enough. Desperate times call for desperate measures, though.

Recounting a tale of the time he first saw this unusual behavior back in 2015, he explained how a male moorland hawker dragonfly was chasing after a female for a prolonged period of time. Eventually, the female suddenly spiraled down to the floor, crashed with quite the thump, and remained there.

“The male hovered above the female for a couple seconds and then left,” Khelifa writes in his study. “I expected that the female could be unconscious or even dead after her crash landing, but she surprised me by flying away quickly as I approached.”

“The question arose: did she just trick that male? Did she fake death to avoid male harassment?”

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The stages of avoiding overly aggressive men - dragonfly version. Khelifa, 2017/Ecology

In the 72 hours since, he observed 27 other incidences of this behavior, with 21 of them being successful. He suspects it only takes place in areas that are relatively saturated in dragonflies, and where the competition for females is particularly intense.

Faking death has been seen in other animals, of course, but it’s normally because they’re trying to avoid predators, not to evade pestering potential mates.

According to Khelifa, this would probably be “the fifth in the animal kingdom after a nuptial gift-giving spider, two species of robber fly, and a European mantis” that fakes death in order to escape harassment.

Admittedly, although feigning death as a human female to avoid a particularly irritating human male may prove to be effective in the short-term, you may cause quite the commotion among other passersby who genuinely think that you might be dead.

[H/T: New Scientist]

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