Did you know that some animals eat their mates?

In the animal kingdom, finding a mate can be risky business. Sometimes, male animals don’t make it out alive. It’s not always other males that do them in, though. In certain species, females who are larger and stronger might not only kill their mates but also devour them. This might seem gruesome, but for some females, it’s a way to get the extra energy and nutrients they need to bear offspring. Let’s explore six creatures known for this behavior of eating their mates.

Mantis

The praying mantis is an insect known for its practice of sexual cannibalism, although not all types do it. Female mantises are typically larger and stronger than males, making it easier for them to catch their mates. They release a scent called pheromones to attract males. When a male approaches to mate, it’s at risk of being attacked by the female. Even if the female bites off the male’s head, he can still mate because his body is controlled by nerves in the abdomen. Giving birth is a draining process for the female, who may lay around 100 eggs. So, consuming the male provides her with the necessary nutrients to produce offspring. In some cases, mantises can reproduce without mating through a process called parthenogenesis, and eating the male can support this process.

Black widow

The black widow spider is another creature known for sometimes engaging in sexual cannibalism. Just like mantises, male black widows are much smaller than females, usually less than half their size. Females spin webs coated with their own pheromones. When a male detects these pheromones, it starts what’s called web reduction: it trims parts of the web and covers the female’s scent with its own. To mate, the male has to position part of its body between the female’s fangs, which obviously puts it at risk of being eaten. However, research suggests that in the wild, black widows seldom consume their mates, and this behavior is more common in captivity.

Jumping spider

Male jumping spiders face a high-stakes game: either impress with your dance moves or become a meal. Female jumping spiders are picky because they can only mate once. To win a female’s favor, the male must showcase impressive dance moves. It jumps around and waves its limbs while creating a rhythmic song by tapping parts of its body together. These vibrations travel through the ground, which the female senses. Interestingly, even humans find these spider songs fascinating, as they often have distinct beats and patterns. If the female is impressed by the performance, mating can occur. But if not, well, the male might end up on the menu.

Green anaconda

The mating behavior of green anacondas is quite intriguing and often involves the consumption of one or more males. Female green anacondas are polyandrous, meaning they mate with multiple males. This happens within a gathering called a “breeding ball”, where over 10 males may compete to mate with a single female. These breeding balls can last up to four weeks, during which the female likely mates with several males. Continuing the pattern seen in other species, female green anacondas outweigh males and possess greater strength. With a lengthy gestation period that severely limits their mobility, females consume one or more males post-mating to acquire the necessary nutrients for successful offspring birth.

Scorpion

Scorpions are known for their potential cannibalistic behavior towards mates. Mothers dedicate significant time and energy to their offspring, often delivering as many as 100 babies in a single brood. Unlike many other nonmammalian creatures, scorpions give birth to live young rather than laying eggs, which demands even more energy. Consequently, males who stick around after mating sometimes become prey, offering sustenance to the female. In desperate situations, scorpion mothers may even resort to consuming their own offspring to ensure their survival.

Octopus

Octopuses, renowned for their intelligence, harbor a surprising cannibalistic streak in some species. Male octopuses possess a unique arm, known as a hectocotylus, designed for delivering sperm packets to females. Once mating is complete, it’s not uncommon for the female to consume the male. Since many male octopuses die shortly after mating regardless, it seems like a natural progression. Females invest heavily in protecting their eggs and frequently perish after giving birth. However, octopus cannibalism extends beyond mating rituals; hatchlings often resort to eating each other, highlighting the harsh realities of survival in the underwater world.

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