SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS)— Pat Benatar famously sang “Love is a Battlefield,” but it couldn’t be clearer than for certain species in the Animal Kingdom. Whether they’re hungry or it’s a strategy to select the best mate, a handful of species see their lives come to an end shortly after breeding.
Sexual cannibalism has fascinated biologists for years, with no clear answer as to why some males are sacrificed and others are not. To find out more about how widespread the ultimate sacrifice to mate is, we turned to Larry Serpa, an ecologist with the Nature Conservancy.
“It’s more common among spiders than among other fierce predators, but it probably slips through the mind of every predator. Vegetarian species probably wouldn’t even think about it,” Serpa said.
Serpa detailed the plight of a male honeybee in graphic detail, likening the courting process and competition for a single queen to the Olympics.
“The young queen only spends a few days mating and then will never have sex the rest of her life. She flies as high as she can and the most fit male is the one that can actually reach her. They mate in the air, but when he reaches his climax, his genitals are ripped off with a loud snap and he starts the long drift down to the ground.”
The male bee’s genitals are left inside the queen bee. Gruesome, gory, but true.
When it comes to finding one’s mate appetizing, we’ve probably all heard about how praying mantis females cannibalize their mate. That’s why males approach them with such caution. Serpa said he won’t make the slightest twitch if she looks in her direction.
“When she looks away, he creeps a little closer. It could take him hours to get to her. If he succeeds, he’ll leap on her back where she can’t grab him, to have sex with her and drop off quickly in the bushes when he’s done.”
But if she is watching, it’s a much different story. One false move on the male’s part and the female will attack.
“Fortunately for her, a headless mantis thrashes in a sexual frenzy and the female can have a good time while she eats her mate. I saw this in the 4th grade in a cage at school.”
Serpa described looking on in horror as the male was devoured from the head down. According to him, the cannibalistic sex went on for “almost an hour”.
The Australian marsupial mouse doesn’t have the same worries as a male mantis, but they do have some sexual frustrations of their own. They sexually mature at one year old and then die two weeks after breeding.
This all makes sense to the Animal Kingdom. Think about it; when a female spider eats the male, she becomes a little fatter, meaning she’ll be able to develop much more healthy eggs.