Sexual cannibalism

People say that one of the benefits of pet keeping for children is that they can learn about death and about how to handle the grievances stemming from the loss of life of their beloved pets. As someone who has a lifetime of pet keeping experiences, I can certainly vouch for this. Over the years I have reeled and healed over the departure of various four-legged friends, the memory of whom still triggers hidden aches inside. Those were excellent lessons about life, death and love.

There was one death that did not so much sadden me as astound me. For a number of years during my childhood, I had the hobby of keeping praying mantis. My childhood bosom friend and I were both so fascinated by the commanding stance and composure of the insect, which looks like a fearless warrior toting two curved knives that we went about catching them. We soon learned about the kind of trees where they could be found. And we would sit like statues and stare at those trees until the first one who spotted a welcoming speck of green would give the other one a nudge and say: "I saw one." We would then climb up the tree and get it if it was within our reach. If it wasn't, we would wait and pray that it would move down. The tricky thing about catching a praying mantis is that it will bite your finger at your first strike and, trust me, it hurts. But once in captivity, it will be gentle and friendly, scuttling on your arm and letting you grab it. And the best thing is, it doesn't try to escape. It has wings but doesn't really use them. So while we always had two or three that we kept in a box, we would take them out when we go home after school, feeding them with some grasshoppers that we caught on the way. The picture of a praying mantis grabbing a grasshopper by its scythe-like forelegs and gobbling it was really quite spectacular.

Then came the time when I captured one that I noticed to be different from the ones I had had. And the way I caught it was rather unusual too. I was having a lesson on a stormy day. The heavy rain outside the classroom and the boring lesson combined to drown my spirits, but I suddenly snapped to attention as I caught a glimpse of a familiar speck of green on a fluorescent tube at the ceiling. A praying mantis! I was thrilled. From that moment onwards, I just prayed that the lesson would end as quickly as possible and the insect would still be there when it did. After what seemed like eternity the bell rang and, much to my relief, the little one was still there. I waited for my classmates to stream out of the classroom, then leapt up a desk and captured it without my difficulty. It was a beauty, lush green in colour, but I noticed that its abdomen was more rectangular in shape than the other ones I had. Without giving it much thought, I put it in the box when I got home.
The praying mantises got along well. They always did. There was no fighting or anything like that. But one day a couple of weeks later, as I opened the box, I was stunned to see that the praying mantis I caught in the clasroom was chewing something, and stuck to its rectangular abdomen was a little part of what was left of the abdomen of another praying mantis! It didn't take me long to figure out what had happened. So the shape of the abdomen was a distinguishing feature of the insect's gender. So I had witnessed the closing scene of sexual cannibalism.

The fact that for some species of living things the husband would get gobbled up by the wife after a sexual intercourse is one of nature's great mysteries. There is no higher price for the male to pay for that experience than with his own dear life.

No comments: