Friday, February 25, 2011

An Intimate Affair

Hey guys!

Mating can be a very interesting and dangerous affair for many insects. Indeed, insect courtships are some of the most amazing courtship rituals in the animal kingdom. Some insects, like the praying mantis for instance, must pre-occupy his mate with gifts of live-insect prey lest she turn her head around 180 degrees and devour him while mating! Others, like the bedbug infect their females with their sperm by means of a long stinger like appendange. Should she survive the mating attempt, her eggs would then be fertillized. In that way one can usually tell how many times a female bedbug has had a succesful brood by counting the number of scars on her back. However arguably, some of the most amazing insect mating rituals are found in the species that fly!
Cairns Birdwing (Ornithoptera eupharion) in mating flight.
It is often said that Insects are amongst the most succesful colonisers of the land, but it is also true that insects are the very first pioneers of the air! Insects were probably the first creatures on our planet to evolve the capabilities for flight! From the rudimentary flight forms of the mayfly to the more complex flight patterns of dragonflies, flight for insects evolved as an integral part of their mating stage and reproduction. Wings, in that sense became not just tools of which insects may spread their linneage far and wide but also, in certain species, as colourful banners and markers of which they may use to distinguish and impress each other. In butterflies, for instance, mating takes place first as a form of an aerial courtship dance where males try to outdance, outdazzle and outdo each other.
Heliconia sp. mating dance
The mating ritual of butterflies is often spectacular and long-lasting. The males, trying to win over the affections of the female will flutter and sommersault in aerial patterns over her head, desperately trying to show off the best of his wings. In some cases, when the female is especially desired, there can be up to a string of 5 or even 10 males dancing in circles over her. Talk about the center of attention eh, now I don't know which girl will pass off that. In some cases, the female is so desirable that the males all congregate her chrysalis even before she hatches!!!
Zebra Longwings (Heliconius charitonius) swarming around female chrysalis as she is about to emerge.
Other male butterflies will present his intended with a perfume gift, exhuded from a brush like organ in his abdommen which, should the female accept will induce her to mate with him.
Rice paper butterfly (Idea Leuconoe) male presenting pheremones package to his intended.
But often times, female butterflies are very choosy. When there are more than one male around the female can take sometimes up to an hour to choose her mate. The following video, for example, features a Great Mormon (Papillio Memnon) female and her procession of three males. They circled around the flowers and plants for almost an hour before she finally broke off with a male from the procession to mate.

L, is for the way you look at me.

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