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Sexual Cannibalism In Praying Mantids

Sexual cannibalism is the act of a female consuming a male during mating. It is a method
commonly used in arachnids and occurs in some species of praying mantis. The female mantids
have an adaptive tradeoff between mating and consuming their male mates to benefit the
production of their eggs. This is a look at a few major aspects of sexual cannibalism in some
species of praying mantis to get a better understanding of how it works.

Why does it occur?


In an experiment done on females of the species Hierodula membranacea to measure the correlation between
female diet and egg health(eggs called oothecae in mantids), three groups of females were put on high,
medium, and low diets. Then, their oothecae were weighed. The results show a positive correlation between
diet and ootheca health.

Does it work?

High

Medium

Low

Diet Type

Avg. time of birth (days)

1.4
1.2
1
0.8
0.6
0.4
0.2
0

Two groups of females: 14 allowed to cannibalize males, and 11 not


allowed to cannibalize males were then set up. The average time of birth
was 9 days earlier in the cannibalizing females, and their oothecae weight
show a direct benefit from consuming mates.
Consumption of Mate vs
Consumption of Mate vs Time
Oothecae weight
of Birth
45
1
40
35
0.8
30
0.6
25
20
0.4
15
10
0.2
5
0
0
Cannibals Non-Cannibals
Cannibals Non-Cannibals

Avg. weight of oothecae (g)

Avg. weight of oothecae (g)

Diet vs Oothecae Health

When is it more/less likely to occur?

An experiment was performed on females of the species Mantis religiosa to show the relationship between
moulting/maturity and cannibalism. Females moulting earlier in the season are bigger, but less healthy, and
females moulting later are smaller, but healthier. Each group had 13 females, and the results show a relationship
between the health of the females and their willingness to consume mates.

Moulting/Maturity vs Cannibalism
9
8
7
# of occurences

Early

Late

5
4
3
2
1
0
Mating with
cannibalism

Mating
without
cannibalism

Cannibalism
without
mating

No
cannibalism
or mating

Do males offer themselves as mating meals or is this sexual conflict?


So sexual cannibalism clearly benefits the female mantids and their offspring, but it hasnt been shown that
males also benefit by providing themselves as nutrients for their offspring. Unlike sexually cannibalistic arachnids,
praying mantis males are iteroparous, making them capable of multiple mating events in their lifetime.

Consent or conflict?
An experiment was performed on mantids in the species Mantis religiosa to see if males assess the level of risk
of being eaten by their female mates. Two situations were recorded: one measuring the speed of male mounting
females while a prey item was offered to the females, the other measuring the speed of mounting without a prey
item offered to the females. The results suggest strong levels of risk avoidance being practiced by males.

No Prey Offered to Females

5
4.5
4
3.5
3
2.5
2
1.5
1
0.5
0

Speed of male approach (cm/min)

Speed of male approach (cm/min)

Prey Offered to Females

Preying Female

5
4.5
4
3.5
3
2.5
2
1.5
1
0.5
0
Female After Preying

Non-preying Female

Female After Not


Preying

Consent or conflict? Pt.II


Two experiments were performed on the species Tenodera aridifolia sinensis. The male courtship ritual in this
species is based on bending his abdomen, and this act of courtship pacifies the female. The intensity of courtship
is judged by the degree to which he bends. The act of dismounting from a females back post-copulation is an
important factor in whether the males get eaten or not, so males must wait for the right time to dismount or risk
being eaten. Both intensity of courtship and time until dismount were plotted against two groups of females: a
satiated group being well fed with crickets, and a starved group having not eaten for 5 days. Males were forced to
approach females either head-on or from behind. Risk-avoidance results point towards sexual conflict.

Time to Dismount Post-Copulation

Intensity of Courtship

100

60

Satiated
Starved

50
40
30
20
10
0
Head-On

From Behind

Avg. Time to Dismount (minutes)

Avg. Degree of Abdominal Bending


(degrees)

70

90
80
70
60
50
40
30
20
10
0
Satiated

Starved

Material:
Sexual cannibalism in the praying mantis hierodula membranacea. T.R Birkhead, K.E Lee, P. Young. Behavior, 1988, Volume 106, Issue 1
Seasonal aspects of sexual cannibalism in the praying mantis mantis religiosa. P. Prokop, R. Vaclav. Journal of Ethology, May 2008, Volume 25, Issue 2
Sexual approach in the praying mantid mantis religiosa. C. Gemeno, J. Claramunt. Journal of Insect Behavior, Nov 2006, Volume 19, Issue 6
Complicity or conflict over sexual cannibalism? male risk taking in the praying mantis tenodera aridifolia sinensis. The American Naturalist, Aug 2006, Volume 168, Issue 2
Images:
Non-liscenced, Reptile Forums, 2008
Non-liscenced, Wikimedia Commons, O. Kommerling, Sep 2007
Charts:
Created
Anthony Pepi