Female Dragonflies Play Dead To Fend Off Unwelcome Sexual Advances

The technique proved a 77% success rate.

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Azure damselfly. Source: Pixabay

Nature is constantly adapting for biological protection. Insects, due to their low position on the food chain, are often the quickest to evolve. In this scenario, researchers have found that female dragonflies are now faking their own death to avoid constant attention from males.

The study, “Faking death to avoid male coercion: extreme sexual conflict resolution in a dragonfly” published in the journal Ecology was guided by Rassim Khelifa, a zoologist from the University of Zurich in Switzerland. Prof. Khelifa describes how he discovered this weird and amazing conduct. “While I was waiting at a pond near Arosa, at about 2,000 meter elevation, I witnessed a dragonfly dive to the ground while being pursued by another dragonfly […] the individual that crashed was a female, and that she was lying motionless and upside down on the ground”.

Professor Khelifa, who has been studying dragonflies for nearly a decade, explained that after the male dragonfly approached the fallen female, he immediately dismissed her under the assumption she was dead. The male dragonfly also did not rush to her side or cry out for help. When he flew away, the female waited a few seconds and then left as if nothing had ever happened.

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Source: Pixabay

Further observation determined 27 out of 31 female dragonflies played dead when pursued, and 21 of the 27 were able to successfully evade males. This unusual situation is usually given to happen when female dragonflies are laying eggs. Unlike most other species, dragonflies are not guarded by their male partners, which leaves them at risk of endangering egg production. If females in this condition copulate, it could damage the reproductive tract.

Dragonflies are not the only species to fake death for the purpose of avoiding sexual encounters. Prof. Khelifa also notes four other species with similar behavior. This includes two species of robber fly, a type of mantis and the spider specie Pisaura mirabilis. Prof. Khelifa is looking forward to investigate the phenomena further, and find further conditions that invoke this “extreme” defense mechanism.

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