A few days ago, I received an ecstatic e-mail from my brother who is an ardent lepidopterist. He wrote:
“Yesterday I saw two butterflies mating. It was wonderful. They were Green Veined Whites. The male sprays the female with an aphrodisiac dust that is so powerful that some humans claim to be able to smell it (apparently, it smells of lemon verbena). If the female consents, as she usually does, they mate and then go on a short nuptial flight together. In the process of mating the male doesn’t just inject sperm but 15% of his body weight – a nutrition boost for the female. It includes minerals the male has processed by drinking mud. This nutritious package helps the female survive longer and lay more and larger eggs. The pleasurable exchange makes many of them understandably promiscuous and reduces the longevity of the males. I waited for an hour in an area near our house where there are lots of Green Veined Whites and finally saw the thing I had been reading about. A real delight.”
His story brings to mind the Chinese use of butterflies to symbolize love and their folk lore story of the “Butterfly Lovers.” The following day as I went about my normal activities; I came upon my own insect observation and responded to my brother as follows:
“It all began when I happened to notice a small lizard (gecko) body hanging tail down from our trumpet vines, which cover most of our back door overhead-trellis. I stared at this oddity only to realize that the lizard was dead and appeared to be caught up in the leaves of the vine. This needed investigation, so I looked more carefully and saw that the lizard was upside down because it was being eaten by a large green mantis. I could see its mouth, lethal beak-like snout and mandibles. It was working hard at its meal. I thought that it paused a moment to look at me with bulbous compound eyes. Did you know that the mantis has five eyes and antennae? There are the two huge bulbous eyes at the two outer corners of its triangular head and three smaller ‘simple’. The mouth and mandibles are located on the bottom angle of the head.
After dinner with family, I took them out to see the spectacle only to discover that the mantis had dropped the lizard. At first, I thought that she had disappeared but then saw that she had turned and was slowly moving up into the full cover of the vine. Now, here is the shock, for on her back was the body of another mantis. They were attached at their rear ends. My son-in-law speculated that the second body might be a discarded exoskeleton, but then it hit me – this headless body, which was still attached to her rear was the remains of her mate!
Yes, I didn’t see the ritual, but of course I had to do so on line. The Internet tells me that not all mating results in cannibalism; however, it showed a film clip of one such event. The male, who is a good bit smaller than the female approaches and washes his head rather as a cat does by licking his front raptorial fore-legs and wiping them over his head. He approaches as he washes, and suddenly she grabs him. She securely grips his lower body under one of her fore-legs while immobilizing his upper body with the other one. She guides him onto her back where he attaches and starts a pulsating flow of genetic material. She, meanwhile, severs his neck and starts to eat his decapitated head. The odd part is that the beheaded male body continues to pulsate and, according to the Internet, the flow of genetic material increases after the decapitation.”
I didn’t tell my brother that the Internet article reported that the male mantis has a “mini supplemental brain” in its rear section to enable it to continue copulation even after losing its head. The statement made me wonder at the frequent allusion that men often think with their sex organs!
My brother responded with a wise crack that he was glad that he wasn’t eating lunch when he read my e-mail! He went on to speculate whether the Mantis could be personalized into a sci-fi story in which the mantis-like aliens are given feelings. He invited me to investigate what the male might be thinking. It is odd, but the Internet narrative concluded with a like speculation on the male mantis’s thoughts in his ecstatic death. I didn’t respond for my take is that the Muslim suicide bomber comes close to the experience of the male mantis. He dies in the expectation of his virgins, while the mantis dies while enjoying his copulation.
As for the butterflies; I believe that my brother audited their copulation in vicarious enjoyment of their dance and lemon-scented aphrodisiac dust. His story comes close to that of the Chinese Butterfly Lovers.