the scary world of sex

For humans, sex is usually fun and exciting. For insects and arthropods, it's terrifying and all too often fatal...
macro bee eyes

Generally, we humans like to think of sex as something exciting and filled with pleasures which take years to fully understand and appreciate. But if we were certain insects or a very particular species of nautili, sex would be just plain terrifying for a very long list of reasons ranging from disembowelment to genitelia resembling torture weapons you’d find in a Medieval knight’s armory. And for many of the insect world’s males, sex is the last thing they ever do. Literally.

Imagine yourself as a web weaving spider. Compared to the females of your species, you are a tiny little creature and it’s your task to somehow try and mate with her. Now, provided that you somehow managed to tap out the right tune on her web without being run through by her huge poisonous fangs, you need to attach yourself to her underbelly and deposit your gametes. But as you do, she’s chewing on you. That’s right. As a spider male, you’re your mate’s dinner and as she’s chomping on your lower half, you have to make sure you can finish the mating before she finally digests something vital.

Another mate who might just eat you during the act is the mantis female. While there are a few controversies about how common sexual cannibalism really is in mantises, there are cases in which a hungry female will bite off the head of her mate who continues to deposit his gametes at an even faster rate as he dies. So if you’re a male mantis and your potential mate is hungry, you have to wrestle with her to make sure she doesn’t reach back and chew on your face with a pair of powerful mandibles. Can you say ouch?

Speaking of ouch, how about a little disembowelment with your climax? During mating, female bees which will eventually become queens of their own hives lock onto the genitals of the male drones. When the mating is done and they separate, the male endophallus is left in the female. The end result? The closest an insect can come to disembowelment. It’s known as popping the drone because of the popping sound as the drones’ reproductive organs tear off. If any males do somehow survive the mating or don’t have a chance to mate after the females extracted all the sperm they’ll ever need from them, they’re chased out and soon die as their only purpose in life is to mate with a female and shed their mortal coil while she builds a new colony.

But it’s not all bad for the males. Sometimes, male insects get to turn the tables on the females with some frightening biological adaptations of their own. Direct your attention to the detailed snapshot of what the penis of a male weevil looks like. This horrifying instrument which seems to be better suited as a knight’s flail than a reproductive organ, brutally maims whatever mates the weevil has. A theory as to why something like this evolves states that the weevils make sure that the fertilized female won’t mate with anyone else while she heals her wounds, ensuring his unique genetic profile is the only one that will be transferred to the offspring. This is backed up by the fact that the most successful males have the most menacing and spikiest genitals. You can insert your own dirty joke here because due to this blog’s readership, I’d really rather not.

Finally, here’s a trick I’m glad never evolved in humans. Male paper nautili reproduce by taking their reproductive organ filled with sperm packets and actually shooting it into a female which is enormous by comparison to them. Were humans to adopt such a trait, we could never have bars, nightclubs or college parties. Someone with a bad aim would be a menace to everyone in range and half our time would be spent trying to dodge the crossfire. Oh and one other thing. Humans borrowing the biology of the paper nautilus would only have one shot. Sad, isn’t it?

# sex // mating behaviors / reproduction / sex / sexual cannibalism

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