For the holiday of love, we all look for ideas to impress the object of our affections. Delightful presents, enticing perfumes, delicate attention: who would believe that, to attract the opposite sex, long before us insects developed a whole arsenal of tricks. Here’s a brief look at some proven techniques.
The perfume of love
Does an irresistible love potion exist? Actually, yes: pheromones, which butterflies have been producing for millions of years! The product of special glands, these perfumes are released into the environment in minute quantities. The effect is stupefying. In the case of the female cecropia, the biggest member of the butterfly family in Québec, the pheromones can be detected by male antennae at a distance of over eight kilometers. This scent trail acts as a real form of radar for finding females ready for mating.
Succulent little mouthfuls
Who hasn’t offered or received chocolate on Valentine’s Day? Insects thought of sweet treats long before us! The female flies of the genus Hilara, for example, are offered prey as a nuptial present by their partner. In presenting his gift, the male performs a little dance that combines steps and wing movements. When the female succumbs and devours the pray, the male takes advantage of the opportunity to mate with her.
Can I have this dance?
Other arthropods use rhythmic movements to seduce females, notably the arachnids, whose dance numbers can be astonishing. To charm a female, the tiny male jumping spider strikes the ground with his abdomen, accentuating the rhythm with the movements of his eight legs. But he has to be careful, because if his stratagem fails to produce the desired result, the female might devour him!
After singing all summer long...
During the hot days of summer, who hasn’t heard the singing of cicadas, even in cities? But did you know that what they’re singing is primarily a love song designed to attract the female? From high in the trees, males release that chirping noise thanks to organs situated under the abdomen. The females, it seems, can’t resist!
The downside of seduction
Mating also has its ups and downs. For certain insect species, it means the end of their lives. The male bee, for example, dies immediately after mating with a future queen honeybee. Not a problem, really: his offspring are guaranteed! In the case of the praying mantis, on the other hand, the female devouring the male after mating rarely happens. Smaller than the female, he’s safely positioned on her back, and once the act is over, he skedaddles… Also, there are couples that endure, like the termites, where the king remains with the queen and takes care of her, seeing to her food and grooming needs. Happy Valentine’s Day! Inspired by the Magali Grégoire text; La séduction chez les insectes, 2013.