Imagine every time you made love to your partner you were dicing with imminent death. It might make you wary of having sex ever again (if you survived, that is!), yet male praying mantises can never be sure they will survive the sex act owing to their partners’ natural predatory instinct. Imagine this was part of our life cycle! Sexual cannibalism is a natural phenomenon whereby one organism (generally the female) eats the other (typically the male) before, during or right after sex. This amazing sequence of photographs shows a female praying mantis eating her lover – starting with this shot of Mrs Mantis munching on the male’s leg. Looks like a nice appetizer!
This pic gives new meaning to the term ‘necking’! The female praying mantis often begins her coital dinner by biting off her lover’s head – frequently while he is still inside her! This ‘head first’ approach is also the one mantises take when hunting regular prey. But when it’s part of procreation? Talk about killing the mood!
Once the head is bitten off, the male’s movements become more active and energetic. This results in a more vigorous and, one would surmise, more abundant and perhaps deeper delivery of sperm. Here, the female is eating her partner’s eye!
Despite all the personal risks involved, males that are submissive and get cannibalized can double the duration of copulation – and the chance of fertilization, too. This is thought by some to be a reproductive strategy on the part of the male (comparable to the female’s decapitation strategy) which increases his chances of success in producing offspring.
As she holds her decapitated and dismembered lover, it’s time for the female praying mantis to finish her after-sex snack. Although some might consider sexual cannibalism an extreme way to deal with cheating husbands, naturally it’s those male mantises that actively avoid being cannibalized that are going to get to mate with more females. For mantis males, being an adulterer may actually be safer.
Dismounting is possibly the most dangerous stage of the sex act for the male mantis as it is at this point that he is most likely to get his head bitten off – literally!
In one study, male praying mantises appeared to approach hungry females more carefully and stay mounted on their partners for a longer period of time – these being males that were keen to mate with more than one female.
Scientists believe healthy and strong males are more likely to wait for a safe moment to dismount from a hungry female (as opposed to one that is satiated). For fitter males, escape is a better option than falling victim to a murderous lover. This poor male is getting his genitals eaten by the female! Insult to injury are the words that spring to mind!
It should be noted that sexual cannibalism is seen more in the laboratory than it is in the field. There is controversy over whether it actually happens in nature or is instead caused by human observation and its associated distractions – like the lights and the movements of scientists, which can disturb mantises in the lab.
Our female finishes off the last bite of her partner, and we can’t help thinking of that well-known saying: the female of the species is more deadly than the male!