dragonfly on a leaf projecting from a palnt
Julie Hambleton
Julie Hambleton
April 19, 2024 ·  2 min read

Female Dragonflies Will Literally Fake Their Own Deaths To Avoid Males

Ladies: What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done to ditch a guy who was pursuing you? Well, dragonflies have likely got you beat. A researcher discovered that female dragonflies fake death to avoid their male counterparts. (1)

Female Dragonflies Fake Death To Dodge The Advances Of Males

No, you’re not misreading this: Female dragonflies actually do fake death to avoid mating. It might seem a bit extreme to some, but the method is apparently actually reasonably effective. Not foolproof (an even crazier concept), but it does work for them. 

Rassim Khelifa from the University of Zurich, Switzerland, was collecting larvae on a field expedition. With a male pursuer hot on her tale, he watched a female dragonfly crash into the ground and lay there motionless on her back. Then, to his disbelief, once the male flew away, likely to find a live female to mate with, the female got up, shook herself off, and flew away, as well. Having studied dragonflies for 10 years, this was his first time witnessing this behavior. (1)

Worth Looking Into

Female moorland dragonflies are particularly vulnerable to harassment by males after they lay eggs because they are one of the few not guarded by their male partners. The problem is that they can become pregnant quite easily, and if that happens too soon after laying eggs, it can permanently damage their digestive tracts. (2)

Normally they hide in thick bushes during this time; however, hiding doesn’t always work. After watching one female, Khelifa decided to determine if this was a one-off thing or if more females did. Out of 31 females that he watched, 27 of them used this same tactic. Out of those 27, 21 of them successfully evaded their pursuer. (2)

This tactic is not for the faint of heart, however. No matter how skilled a flier you are, purposefully crash-landing into the ground comes with high personal risk. The females only employ this tactic when the harassment is heavy – aka, risking death is a better fate than whatever these male dragonflies have in mind. (1)

Females Take Things To The Extreme

Researchers have witnessed this behavior in some flies and mantis. Some male spiders will also use it. The female dragonflies, however, seem to use it the most. There are a number of other types of dragonflies and other insects that are slightly more aggressive about their disinterest in a male. They go so far as to eat their partners. (1)

Keep Reading: The Surprising Reasons Why Mosquitoes Bite Some People and Don’t Touch Others

Sources

  1. Female dragonflies fake sudden death to avoid male advances.” New Scientist. Sandrine Ceurstemont. April 27, 2017.
  2. Faking death to avoid male coercion: extreme sexual conflict resolution in a dragonfly.” ESA Journals. Rassim Khelifa. April 24, 2017.