The following is just one of a bunch of pieces I’ve been working on for a project tentatively titled Pornotopia: The Ins and Outs and Ins and Outs of Sex and Erotica. Enjoy!
Despite apparent semiotic similarities, the female is, in fact, from a genus not at all related to its common mating partner, which in no way prevents it from various futile reproductive attempts.
This pseudo-positive assortative mating – the preference of one gender to seek out mates with similar or superior characteristics – has been likened to the behavior of a unique subspecies of baylisascaris that frequently attempts to reproduce with more developed species in an attempt to mimic their successful behaviors. Unlike these fecal parasites, the female is far more aggressive in its mating behaviors.
So aggressive, in fact, that few species can survive the attempt. For many years hypotheses regarding these common coitus fatalities were few and far between, more than likely because of the high incidents of injury and death among researchers who put themselves at high risk to study the sexual activities of this unusually destructive female. Fortunately recent experimental developments have paved the way for researchers to safely observe for the first time the actual behavior of the species from initial excitement phase to the inevitable conclusion of its unique sexual response cycle.
Again paralleling positive assortative mating, the female is apparently attracted to males exhibiting dominant behavior such as ritualistic combat, excessive fat storage, and territorial aggression. However, the female is again exceptional in that she normally prefers sexual partners who only manifest dominant behavior traits. In a well-documented experiment conducted in 2002, when faced with a choice between an extremely healthy male specimen of a similar species with only a miniscule colorization differentiation versus a male with obvious physiological deficits who was only apparently suitable for reproduction, the female consistently preferred to attempt to mate with the similarly colored male. It is interesting to note, however, that this behavior is only common if the female is out in the open. When isolated, the female will reverse this behavior and become extremely sexually aggressive toward the colored male.
Once the female has become attracted to a potential mate, it begins the courtship by displaying a series of provocative displays apparently evolved to stun the male to the point where sexual activity is optimal – for the female, because, as noted, the mating activity of the female in no way could be considered beneficial to the male. One of the early displays involves the unfolding of the lower limbs, extending them from the female’s protective sheath of fibers. These fibers, it should be noted, have been acquired from the desiccated remains of other, previous, matings. Extended outward, the limbs thus act mysteriously. Although they clearly lack any form of healthy musculature or show any signs that the female could act in any way as a successful brood mother, most males are lured at least as long as necessary for the female to continue to the next phase of her sexual courtship. Various research suggests that there are other, as yet unknown, factors at work at this stage in the female’s mating behavior. Semiochemicals have been discussed, as has the concept that the female’s coloring and behavior somehow mirrors the male’s, even though the actions of this false female in no way reflect true actions of a sexually mature female of any species, let alone the male's genotype. One radical theory, as yet untested, even hypothesizes that the female relies on a form of "bribe," consisting of preferred nutrients or items that might make its lair more comfortable.
Now close enough to a potential suitor, the female extends a set of hooked upper limbs evolved to lock around the mate’s thorax, effectively trapping it. Although this maneuver is largely successful in trapping the male, it should be noted that some males have been sighted who, at the onset of this initially aggressive female mating behavior, have resorted to severing their own limbs to escape. These limbless males can often be seen at the periphery of the female’s territory, too entranced by the female’s chemical lure to escape but having become too cautious to proceed closer and risk her predation.
For those unfortunate enough not to escape, the female begins the next stage of her pseudo-mating behavior: the opening of the anterior mandibles, whereby a piercing stylet extends down and outward well below even the laryngeal prominence. Evolved with barbs to resist removal, the stylet is capable of easily puncturing the epicuticle and even cracking through the most hardened of procuticle. Depending on the chosen mate, the stylet will enter the head near or even directly through the vulnerable ocelli or directly into the core of the thorax.
Once this penetration has been achieved, the female injects neurotoxins that act as a sexual catalyst for her aggressive mating behavior by markedly increasing the males susceptibility to pain. Similar in toxicity to scorpion venom, the wild thrashing of the impaled male further stimulates the female causing a dramatic increase in the thrusting of the style. So violent is this activity that occasionally the barb has been observed penetrating completely through a potential mate’s head, though this in no way decreases the female’s aggression.
The next phase of this pseudo-sexual mating begins with the flooding of the male’s head or thorax with a mixture of enzymes that immediately begin to break down all present macromolecules. Normally preceding digestion, this activity does not continue with the removal of the broken-down tissues. Instead the region liquefied acts as a nutritious "nest" for the next stage.
In an action so far too fast to be completely viewed or documented, the stylet is removed and the hole previously punched through the body of the male is roughly widened by the introduction of an ovipositor. Reaching precisely to the previously mentioned digested region, the female then proceeds to go through a gesture of egg-laying, including the positing of a large sterile egg into the body cavity of the still-thrashing male.
This activity is important to note as it adds a new complexity to this puzzling behavior. For not only is the female attracted to, and very often attempts to mate with, members of other species, resulting in the death of the chosen mate, but the attempt is fruitless as the female has yet to be observed procreating in any way. Being a clearly unsuccessful evolutionary development, having no observable biological function aside from preying on males of other species, how the female still manages to carry on its genes is a matter of much curiosity.
The mystery of the female's behavior concludes with the last act of its unusual pseudo-sexual mating ritual. While the order mantodea has long been accused of the same behavior, recent studies have indicated that it is not natural in the wild. In the case of this singular specimen, however, the action has been observed – where it is safe to do so – and thoroughly documented far too often. Whether it is a way of further stimulating its own sexual responses or just as a way of procuring additional nutrients, the eating of the male’s head after sex continues to perplex researchers and remains a fertile area for further study.