Female Dragonflies Fake Their Own Deaths to Avoid Unwanted Sexual Attention

Fagjun | Published 2017-04-29 22:11

Dragonflies can give pointers on how to avoid creeps.
[Photo by Jack Kaminski]

Zoologist Rassim Khelifa discovered that female moorland hawker dragonflies pretend to be dead to escape unwanted sexual attention.

Human females have a number of strategies to dispel unwanted advances from human males. These strategies, like giving a fake number or pretending to have an emergency, probably don't include faking their own death, though. Female dragonflies, meanwhile, apparently have to pull out all stops to avoid unwanted advances from the males of their species.

How to Avoid Unwanted Sexual Attention

These female dragonflies even fake their deaths in quite a theatrical way. They crash-dive from the sky and lie motionless on the ground so the male will think that his conquest has, for some reason, died. The female will stay that way until her persistent suitor flies away, perhaps in search of a more willing female. Once the coast is clear, the female dragonfly will then fly off unencumbered by unwanted sexual attention.

The order Odonata includes dragonflies and damselflies.
[Photo by Andrew C]

Khelifa has been studying dragonflies for 10 years, but has never seen this behavior before. Suffice it to say, what he witnessed was a surprise. He had been collecting odonate eggs in the Swiss Alps for a different study on larvae. He witnessed a dragonfly fall to the ground while another dragonfly was pursuing it. The fallen dragonfly was female, and was lying on her back on the ground. After a couple of seconds, the pursuer flew away.

Like in other animals, lying prone on its back is an odd position for a dragonfly. Khelifa thought that the prone dragonfly was either unconscious or dead, but it quickly flew away as he approached. Intrigued, Khelifa spent the next few months studying this behavior in dragonflies. He was able to document dozens of other similar cases of female dragonflies playing dead to escape unwanted sexual attention.

Khelifa found that male dragonflies would intercept females in flight before copulation. In moorland hawker dragonflies, the male would fly away after copulation, leaving the female to lay eggs on her own. In other dragonfly species, males typically guard females as they lay eggs.

77.7% of females in the study successfully avoided the unwanted sexual attention. The males were able to successfully intercept each female dragonfly that stayed in the air.

Deadbeat Dragonfly Dads

Faking death in mating-related circumstances is a rare occurrence. In moorland hawker dragonflies, faking death is a technique to avoid predators. Scientists haven't observed this behavior in moorland hawker dragonflies as a technique to avoid unwanted sexual attention. Now, though, there is evidence that faking one's own death isn't just to avoid predators. It may also be a way to avoid mating with a deadbeat dragonfly dad.

The behavior is also quite risky. However, it may be a strategy that helps female moorland hawker dragonflies produce more offspring. It serves its purpose in ensuring the females' survival and reproductive success.

There's no word yet if this technique can help human females avoid unwanted sexual attention from the males of their species. However, the technique is of course testable in human mating scenarios. Perhaps falling off your stool and playing dead while at the bar to get a creep to leave you alone will be successful.

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