Bug Blog

50 Shades of WRONG: Disturbing Insect Sex

The next time you think about getting creative in the sack with your partner keep in mind that there is very little you can do that hasn’t already been tried.  What’s more, when it comes to bugs, their ability to get busy is beyond human comprehension. An evolutionary battle to control fertilization has inspired rough, creative and down right freaky sexual practices among insects. For example, some male penises are covered in spikes, scoops, harpoons, and daggers, and females occasionally kill and eat their suitors.

According to Gwen Pearson, Outreach Coordinator for the Perdue Department of Entomology, one explanation for this seemingly barbaric copulation lies in the bizarre nature of insect vaginas. For one, they can actually store sperm. Some female insects can store male sperm for years before using it. In addition, females can eject sperm from males they don’t care for. A few species have the ability to divert sperm down dead end ducts.

The males, on the other hand, have their selective attributes as well. Male flies undergo what is called genital torsion. The male penis must contort or he would be upside down and dragged around behind the female. To solve the tricky situation, the genitals of flies twist between 90º to 180º before or during sex. Some species can contort an entire 360 degrees.

And while there are many more examples of bizarre and brutal insect sex, the question that comes to mind is what can humans learn from insect sex? Insect genitals are great examples of evolution in action. Many consider deer antlers or shiny tails to be examples of sexual selection and there are, but that same process also shapes the genitals of animals.

You can breed beetles to have more or less spiky penises, select flies based on the size of their sperm, etc. Over millennia nature has produced these shocking body parts that help or hinder the control of paternity and access to mates. That same process of evolution is perhaps why humans lost the penile spines common in other primates.