Male Praying Mantises Have Evolved to Escape Sexual Cannibalism By Female Partners
Male Springbok praying mantises have devised a strategy to avoid becoming their sexual partner’s meal immediately following the encounter, a new study has found.
Sexual cannibalism, occurs when the female of a species consumes the male before, after, or even during, a sexual encounter. Besides being common to mantises, it is also known to happen in several inset orders, including scorpions and the black widow spider.
“Males play Russian roulette whenever they encounter cannibalistic females,” Nathan Burke, an entomologist at the University of Auckland, who co-authored this research, told the press, describing the sexual cannibalization in mantises. However, the researchers just discovered that under this threat of decapitation, “males try to subdue females by pinning them down in violent struggles,” in Burke’s words.
Published this week in Biology Letters, the study found that if the male managed to grab the female with its serrated raptorial forelegs before mating — he stood a 78% chance of escaping unscathed. In addition, if he managed to inflict a non-fatal abdominal would upon her, he escaped cannibalization almost every single time.
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However, if the female managed to grab him first before the copulation, the males were always killed and devoured.
Interestingly, in addition to the fact that male mantises have evolved to escape being decapitated, what also surprised the scientists was violent, almost coercive behavior the male mantises demonstrated. “I was very surprised to discover that males injure females while trying to subdue them for mating… Nothing like that has ever been observed in mantises before,” Burke noted.
They pointed out that while the sexual coercion is common among other species, it is rare among a species that engages in sexual cannibalism, often because “the females are much larger, and submitting to their strength is too dangerous,” Burke explained.
“It’s a fascinating example of how sexual conflict can lead to the evolution of mating tactics that help one sex but hinder the other,” he concluded.