I manage to divert off on some pretty strange tangents sometimes. I was talking with a co-worker about spiders and after a few off shoots, somehow wound up talking about nuptial gifts. Then an add popped up on a site that I was looking at saying it was “engagement season”. Seriously? There is actually an engagement season? Who comes up with this?
I digress again. Back to insects giving gifts like hopeful teenagers on prom night. There are quite a few insects (and some spiders) that have evolved this behaviour. Danceflies, crickets, scorpionflies and fireflies are some of the most studied as well as cockroaches and even some moths. As I was researching info for this post, I came across Buzz Hoot Roar’s fabulous illustration of some of this. Of course what the female gets out of this is nutrition. Either direct nutrition for her (eating a piece of pretty prey provided to her), or for her eggs (it’s called a spermatophore). So it behooves the male to show up with something good, because she going to be looking for it. Some species will present their lady with a piece of food that they have collected, often some type of prey. Some species of male crickets produce a spermatophore which provides nutrients for his love and her offspring. Dance flies make a balloon of silk to gift to their girl. Some give poison. Seriously. Six-spot burnet moths gift cyanide to their sweetie and she then transfers it to the eggs, protecting them from predation.
There are a few reasons for nuptial gifts from the gift-givers point; it really isn’t the thought that counts here. First is that if he gives his lady friend an edible gift, her mouthparts will be otherwise engaged and not be looking to take a bit out of him. Second, some gifts come in the form of a protective coating, think the candy shell on the M&M candy. It protects the eggs, giving them more chance to hatch, therefore more of his genetic material get successfully passed on. Another reason, it just makes him look good (therefore more chance of mating). Think about it, do you choose the person who shows up with the magnum of wine and charcuterie plate, or the one who shows up with Boone’s Farm and day old KFC? Call me a snob, but I’m going with the first choice.
Do you choose the person who shows up with the magnum of wine and charcuterie plate, or the one who shows up with Boone’s Farm and day old KFC?
That covers the treats, but there are also some tricks. Studies into some species of spiders have shown that the males will try to trick the females with “worthless” items such as already been eaten prey, silk wrapped nothing, or just pretending to be dead when they get turned down and trying again. Many research projects have shown that the female doesn’t always fall for the trick, but they often do.
Predominately it is the male producing and giving a gift to the female. However, there’s always an exception! In this case, it is the Zeus bug (Phoreticovelia sp.) where the female makes a tasty secretion for her beau.
So as all the little munchkins are coming by demanding their sugar rush, remember the entomological awesomeness of nuptial gifts (and trickery) in the arthropods. And share and like and follow and all that.