#MeToo in the world of dragonflies

(12 January 2018) Making sure to have enough offspring is the main goal of living creatures, all over the world, most certainly also for insects.
That process is fascinating at best, but rather disturbing in many other cases. Warning: this text contains some explicit sexual references.
Imagine that the male grabbed the female in the neck – using his bum – and then squeezed so hard that she moved her private parts into his neck, because that is where he stores his sperm. Life in the world of dragonflies is not very female-friendly, and that is why female dragonflies play ‘dead’ when they are approached by concupiscent males.
Let’s restate this story a bit more formally. Male dragonflies have territories which they patrol by flying round in specific routes, scaring off competing males of the same species. Female dragonflies on the other hand, get a lot of positive attention: often a “harem” of males fly behind them.
The male dragonfly deposits the sperm from the end-segment (nr 9) of the abdomen to his own second segment, close to the neck. The transferred sperm will be sufficient for several copulations. To mate, the male dragonfly grasps the female’s neck with his anal appendages (also located at the end of his abdomen) and invites (actually: forces) the female to bend her abdomen to join her genital opening with his sperm deposit near his neck. Together they form a heart-shaped “mating-wheel”. Many dragonflies copulate in this way while flying, others prefer to rest in the grass or on an agapanthus leaf in my garden.
After the mating the female almost immediately lays her eggs; some are still in tandem during the egg-laying.
Recent research has shown that male dragonflies are so ‘keen’, that they will attack any available female. Looks a bit like the global entertainment industry really….#MeToo. Anyway, female dragonflies, sitting on a leaf or on the ground to deposit the eggs protect themselves against these attacks by playing ‘dead’. Her total immobility, will eventually make the procreation driven males to leave: “Not tonight honey, I am dead!”. Flying girls even drop out of the sky to end up ‘dead’ on the ground to get rid of airborne stalkers.
This strategy is extremely rare in nature. The reason it exists with dragonflies could be that males and females do have very different approaches to reproduction. The manufacture of spermatozoa is done at low cost; therefore males have any interest, in order to ensure an offspring, to very frequent mating, while for females, who pay a heavy energetic tithe in producing eggs, there are only disadvantages to practice repeated coitus.

Technique

A 60 mm close-up lens, in bright light with subjects more interested in each other than in a photographer, it is a relatively easy job. And a tissue to wipe your head for when you realise what really is going on….