One cool thing about being a blogging biologist is that one can write every day about sex with a straight face and then blame readers for “having a dirty mind”. But sex is so interesting – life would cease to exist without it and it is a central question in biology, so we have a license, nay, duty, to write about it all the time. We get all blase about it, I guess, compared to “normal people”.
One cool story that revolves around sex is making the rounds of the science blogosphere today. Jake Young explains in seemingly dry scientific language:
This issue has spawned a variety of weird behaviors and adaptations. For example, the males have spines on their intromittent organs (read: insect penises) that puncture the females insides. This is to discourage them from mating with other males. In response the females kick the males during mating to limit the damage done by the spines.
The nuptial gift in part makes up for the reproductive cost of mating to the females, which is high in this case, but Edvardsson argues that this is probably not how it evolved. Instead, the large ejaculate probably evolved first so that the male would have more sperm to compete with other males. Then, the female evolved a way to utilize the water and nutrients in that already present sperm. “Well, hey…it’s here.”
Mo the Neurophilosopher adds the scary pictures while retaining the dry scientific tone:
A cost/benefit analysis is therefore essential to the mating behaviour of the female. The number of mating events must be strictly limited because of the resulting harm. But at the same time, the female’s needs for both sperm and water must be met.
The beauty of Pondering Pikaia is her ability to cut through all the complexity and say it like it is:
basically, females will trade sex for drinks
possibly the most brutal looking sex organ I have ever seen.
So, go ahead and chuckle, you readers with dirty minds, but this is a really cool evolutionary story and if titillation brings in lay readers and gets them interested in the theory behind the scientific finding all the better. This is a good example of framing, isn’t it? Got your attention and got you interested in the underlying science, didn’t it?
Update: I see that Kate also joined the fray:
And no, he doesn’t believe that these findings generalize to other species. Including humans. So, if you’re planning to proposition a female beetle anytime soon, remember to bring along a bottle of water. You should be just fine.