Fatal Attraction: The Sexual Cannibalism Of The Praying Mantis

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If you're one of those people who think women will lie, cheat and kill to get herself a baby daddy . . . you just might be right. At least in the beautifully bizarre and brutal world of praying mantids. 

New research from evolutionary biologist, Dr. Kate Barry, suggests that these female insects are bona-fide femme fatales. Not only do they blithely devour their lover head to tail—talk about a troubling fetish—but they'll send false pheromonal messaging that they're healthy and fertile, when in actuality they're underfed and rather sickly.

But first thing's first.

Barry explains that a typical mating system of these hot-green little goblins is driven by airborne sex pheromones released by the females, which males use to determine "fecundity and attractiveness." Barry placed 24 female mantises into four feeding treatments ("Very Poor," "Poor," "Medium" and "Good"). Males were then offered up the lady-goods, but based purely on the female's pheromonal output; their bodies were visually obscured. What Barry discovered is that while body condition and fertility varied linearly as you would expect according to the amount of nourishment she was receiving . . . their perceived attractiveness by males did not. 

In fact, it was just the opposite.

While the top three tiers of females boasted "a nice positive correlation between female body condition and the number of males attracted" which is "just what you would expect in a normal non-deceptive system," the "Very Poor" females attracted the most gentlemen booty-callers. Not only that, but these sickly and less fecund females were also much more likely to cannibalize their mates because they were hungry as all get out; with more food in their bellies, the more they benefited from noshing their lovers and the more wee, mantis-bairns they could produce.

"The male is quite a large meal compared to any other prey type that the female would consume, and they can therefore use those resources to produce more eggs and have more babies," Barry told ABC Science.

Barry's paper is purporting to be the very first of its kind to prove that pheromonal deception is responsible for these proverbial cases of fatal attraction. ABC Science writer Anna Salleh also explains that one of the definitive and most fascinating elements of Barry's research is her illustration that a female mantises needs to have at least one egg to to produce sex pheromones; Barry was able to confirm the presence of eggs in every female by dissecting them at the end of the experiment.

Oh. And did we mention that male mantises have two brains—one in their heads and one in their abdomens—so a lady mantis can serve herself a delectable head-appetizer before finishing up their sure-be-stellar copulation? Yes, we're talking about headless boot-knocking y'all. Actually, females often nibble off the head and forelegs so as to disable him completely. We wouldn't want our precious lover to change their minds, now would we?

And you thought your sex life was strange. Pssh. 

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