A researcher has observed female dragonflies doing something that many human women have probably considered when confronted with unwanted male attention: faking death.
The University of Zurich’s Rassim Khelifa, who has studied dragonflies for the past decade, told New Scientist that he was collecting moorland hawker dragonfly larva in the Swiss Alps when he first saw the phenomenon. A male was pursuing a female, at which point she dove to the ground and lay motionless on her back until the male left.
He’d never seen this behavior before, he told New Scientist. But it turns out it wasn’t an isolated incident.
Khelifa’s study on the behavior, titled “Faking death to avoid male coercion” extreme sexual conflict resolution in a dragonfly,” was published in the science journal Ecology this week. He observed 27 out of 31 female dragonflies attempting to avoid males in this way, and in most cases playing dead appeared to be successful.
So why might a female dragonfly be so desperate to avoid males? Khelifa told Gizmodo that sex can be hazardous for the female, and that sex with a male can remove the sperm left inside the female by a previous mate.
“In fact, males have evolved a sophisticated penis structure that sweeps sperm out of the reproductive tract of the female,” he said. “Therefore, since one copulation is enough to fertilize all eggs, it is disadvantageous to carry out extra-copulations...given the potential survival costs.”
While the situation for humans isn’t quite the same, a lot of women have been inspired by the idea.
Isn’t nature great?
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