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September 23, 2018

About praying mantis - till death do us part

NATURAL BEAUTY: The female is the murderer, the male is the victim. Sex is the deadly sin, even though it is committed between the ‘married’.
NATURAL BEAUTY: The female is the murderer, the male is the victim. Sex is the deadly sin, even though it is committed between the ‘married’.

Among the things I find myself drawn into without my conscious effort to participate, are weddings. I either find myself being at the centre of the planning committees, or being the chairman of the fund raising team. I don’t mind the invitations to the high table during these meetings as I may need the help of those marrying friends in future. 

What intrigues me is in the culmination of the process, where the hypocritical oath is said. I have never seen a situation where the couples go straight to making the promises, saying the oath without guidance, and being led by the preacher. It always starts by the preacher telling the couples to “say after me”, yet the oath has been said since the time church weddings were designed.

Those getting married have been humming the oath even in their sleep, as the wedding day approaches. But the preacher has to be present and lead the couples in saying the oath. I guess one needs to be prodded by an authoritative figure to say what one considers to be an oath – a promise that is the most difficult if not impossible to honour.  “Till death do we part?”

“Till death do us part, so help me God.” That is usually the end statement of a partner in a marriage pact, before declaring the end of a lonely lifestyle, or a good life led alone. If you ask the preacher, that statement is the most powerful in declaration of unending love between couples doing their vows.

But how many really mean that? How many actually know that they are making a covenant? How many feel that they can exchange the hangman’s noose with their lovers if given a choice? Not any humans that I know of. The only earthly dwelling that can do that, and quite willingly and sometimes voluntarily, are the lower animals.

Some species of insects, most notably, a certain species of spider, and the more commonly known – praying mantis.  Although these insects do actually part only after the death of a mate, at least they don’t make that promise – that they will be there for each other till death. One simply outlives one’s usefulness, and is made to go by the mate.

And to make sure that the death of the mate is total and indeed, sure, one partner eats the mate. The female is the murderer, the male is the victim. Sex is the deadly sin, even though it is committed between the ‘married’ couples. It is called sexual cannibalism.

Several hypotheses have been advanced to explain the phenomena of female praying mantis eating her mate prior, or after a mating session. One hypothesis is – adoptive foraging hypothesis. In this school of thought, it is assumed that the female mantis determines the nutritional value of the male mantis vis-a-viz her common diet of crickets and the likes. If she thinks her mate tastes better, or has more nutrients that could improve the health of her eggs, then he is a goner.

Another hypothesis that has been looked at in details by entomologists is the aggressive spillovers of some females. It is understood that some female mantis develop a strange behaviour of aggressiveness in their feeding habits. The aggressiveness of the female is measured by the speed she uses to capture prey and dismantle it.

The more aggressive females tend to cannibalize their mates immediately the copulation is over, or even during the act itself. The males have to adopt to doing it very fast to avoid being eaten. But the strategy works in as far as they are safe from the females hunger; but they run the risk of not being able to transfer enough sperms to ensure procreation.

Since it is the primal instinct of the male to make sure that their genes are successfully replicated in the next generation, they will try to mate a second time, and having survived the first time, they might prolong the copulation time. Bad thing to do. The females don’t give a second chance. As soon as they start, the female decapitates the head of the male, and continues eating towards the belly while the male’s organ is still lodged inside the female.

Though, ultimately, the male is eaten alive, the female will stop when she reaches the end of the abdomen and the male organ acts as a plug in the female reproductive orifice. This ensures that the female will not be able to mate with another male, and the dead male’s sperms will not be put on competition. He may be dead, but he has ensured that his family tree does not die with him. Till death do us part indeed.

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