How Insects Find Love: Unconventional Courtship Rituals

Bizarre insect courtship rituals

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Finding a partner in the insect kingdom isn’t as simple as it is when you’re human. Before mating can occur, creepy crawlies have various courtship rituals, some of which can seem more than a little strange.

From intricate dances and romantic serenades to gruesome acts of cannibalism, insects go to great lengths to attract a mate. These behaviors have developed through evolution and are crucial for the survival of their species. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the incredible world of insect courtship and delve into some of the most unusual and captivating mating rituals that insects display.

Common Types of Insect Courtship Rituals

Common types of insect courtship rituals

Not all insects attract a mate in the same way. There are many types of courtship rituals, but one thing they all have in common is how special and interesting they are. Before we meet some insects that perform these rituals, let’s take a look at the behaviors in a little more detail.

Pheromone Signaling

Even humans use pheromones when it comes to the opposite sex. While we don’t even realize it, half the time, we’re attracted to someone because of their unique scent and this is a primal instinct that is built into many animals.

In the insect world, critters will produce chemicals that signal to others of the same species that they’re ready for mating. For example, the female cecropia moth sends out a powerful pheromone that males can detect even when they’re miles away.


Many animals use dance and movement to attract a mate, and it’s no different when it comes to bugs. Jumping spiders are known for their elaborate courtship dances, which can include zig-zags and leg movements that females cannot resist.

Auditory Signals

Have you ever been attracted to a partner that can sing? Well, it seems that insects are no different when it comes to being serenaded, which is why some of them will use auditory signals to look for a mate.

This includes insects such as crickets and cicadas, which chirrup and chirp. In fact cicadas are among the noisiest when it comes to attracting a mate since the males will gather in large numbers, creating a loud chorus.

Physical Displays

In some cases, males will show off their fitness and strength in a physical display. For example, if one male dung beetle tries to take the partner of another, they’ll engage in a fight using their sizeable mandibles.

If you’re an ant then you’d better be ready to put on a physical display showcasing specific movements that show the females they’re ready and willing to mate.


There’s nothing that says love me more than a gift, so it’s no surprise that many insects use this as a way of bagging a mate. These are often called nuptial gifts and are typically food items used by the males to impress a female. This happens with a lot of spiders and the males will offer the food just before copulation in a process known as courtship feeding. 

However, sometimes, gifts are given that cannot be eaten, such as leaves, twigs, and other debris from nature.

But what’s most impressive are the gifts given by males that require sacrificing a huge part of themselves. For example, the male Mormon cricket offers the female a protein wad that could be up to 30% of his own body weight. After she’s sampled it, she may or may not decide to mate with him.

Visual Displays

Showing off is sometimes one of the best ways to get the attention of a potential mate, which is why a lot of animals do it. One of the reasons that butterflies have such bright, patterned wings is for the simple reason of attracting a mate.

What’s more, there are some insects that use visual light cues to grab attention. For example, the firefly flashes its light in a sequence that tells the male its gender and that the female is ready to mate.

Nest Building

Being able to show the opposite sex that you’re able to build a viable home to lay eggs and raise young is a surefire way to make yourself attractive. It’s for this reason that a lot of insects engage in nest building as a courtship behavior. The dung beetle rolls a ball of poop to attract his mate. It might seem a bit gross to a human, but this is prime property for the female dung beetle.

Strange Insect Courtship Rituals

There are some truly weird and wonderful ways of mating in the insect world. It might surprise you that there are loads of bugs that use bizarre courtship rituals, so let’s get better acquainted with them.

1. Peacock Spiders

Male peacock spiders will climb up upon a high surface and create vibrations with their legs to get the attention of nearby females.

The peacock is a bird that’s known for its elaborate tail feathers designed to make a show and attract a mate. If you’re familiar with this sight, then you’ll easily see where the peacock spider gets its name, and its mating rituals are just as ornate.

These small spiders are found in Australia and begin their mating season in the spring. Males will climb up upon a high surface and create vibrations with their legs to get the attention of nearby females.

Once he’s captured her gaze, he will unfold a flat part of his abdomen to reveal bright colors. And to make them as showy as possible, he’ll move his body in a dancing display that can last as long as an hour! But he needs to make sure he’s pulling the right moves, as there’s research that suggests females are attracted to certain moves more than others.

2. Praying Mantis

The female praying mantis will release pheromones to attract a willing male and, during the act, she’ll viciously bite off his head.

I don’t think I’d much fancy being a male praying mantis since these unfortunate creatures become lunch after they’ve mated! Talk about taking one for the team!

However, it would seem that males are aware of this strange sexual behavior and typically go for fatter females that seem well-fed or those that appear less aggressive. Fortunately, there’s evidence to suggest that not all sexual encounters end in the death of the male. 

But when it does happen, the female will release pheromones to attract a willing male and, during the act, she’ll viciously bite off his head. While it might seem ridiculously aggressive, some scientists have suggested that a headless male thrusts more vigorously, while others suggest it lengthens the duration of the act. 

It’s thought that females engage in this sexual cannibalism as a way of gaining important nutrition for reproduction.

3. Mayfly

Mayfly courtship ritual

The mayfly is perhaps one of the shortest-lived creatures on the planet. While the larvae might survive for months at a time, once the flies reach adulthood, it’s a fleeting, 24 hour existence.

During their short lives, the mayflies really do make it count when it comes to mating by gathering in huge swarms over the water. While the males hover over the surface, the females will enter the swarm only to be grabbed by a male and they’ll perform the deed in mid-flight. 

Once they’re finished, the male releases his female, and she heads to the surface of the water to lay her eggs. While both male and female die shortly after mating, what’s truly fascinating is how immaculately timed everything is. Mayfly swarms are only ever seen within five days of a full moon!

4. Hissing Cockroach

Not only do the male hissing cockroaches make hissing sounds, but they’re also known to mate by force and will often back an unsuspecting female into a corner.

The poor cockroach doesn’t have the best reputation among insects but being creepy crawly aside, these are fascinating creatures, albeit aggressive.

Not only do the males make hissing sounds, but they’re also known to mate by force and will often back an unsuspecting female into a corner. And if that wasn’t enough, they’ll also fight with other males and even pose as a female to fight off other males. 

Where the males use their hissing sounds to attract a female, the girls emit a potent odor to draw the attention of a male. If you observe this species, you may also notice that the pair rub antennae as part of their courtship ritual.

5. Waterstrider

Male waterstriders will tap at the surface of the water to attract a predator and since he’s got the female below him as protection, it’s her that’ll get eaten.

The water strider is another aggressive mater and despite having the nickname, the Jesus bug, it’s anything but gentle like its biblical namesake. In fact, the male of this species will use brute force and death threats in order to get a mate!

And he doesn’t waste any time with courtship rituals. Instead, he’ll find a female that takes his fancy and simply mount her and get to work.

But here comes the good and bad news. The female has a genital shield that she can choose to open or not when mounted by a male. However, if she doesn’t, this is where the male gets sneaky. He’ll tap at the surface of the water to attract a predator and since he’s got the female below him as protection, it’s her that’ll get eaten. It’s mate or die!

6. Soapberry Bug

Males soapberry bugs will prolong copulation, in some cases, staying attached to the female for up to 11 days!

Since climate conditions mean that there are more males than females, mating can be something of a competition between soapberry bugs. Not only this but since the females mate with several males, the guys also have to ensure they’re the last one to mate with her as this is usually the successful insemination.

In order to ensure this, males will prolong copulation, in some cases, staying attached to the female for up to 11 days! The male might remove himself from the female for short periods but he’ll stay close by to ensure that he can re-enter her should any other potential suitors pass by.

7. Scorpion Fly

Male scorpion flies will offer a nuptial gift to the female which usually comes in the form of a ball of saliva or a dead insect.

It’s easy to see where scorpion flies get their name; that long curved tail that resembles that of a scorpion. But what is it used for? Well, it’s actually an important body part for the male to use in mating rituals and he’ll use them to grab onto his chosen female. 

But after he has impressed her with his moves, the male scorpion fly still has his work cut out as he’ll need to find a suitable nuptial gift for his would-be lover. This usually comes in the form of a ball of saliva or a dead insect. And, if the female isn’t happy with the offering, she could end up killing the one that pursues her!

8. Black Widow Spider

When you think of weird courtship rituals in the insect world, one of the first creatures you might imagine is the black widow spider. These critters are infamous and for a pretty scary reason; at least for the males!

Yes, that’s right, male black widow spiders often become a meal for their female counterparts. But it’s not as malicious as you might think. You see, the males are significantly smaller so, if they approach the web of the female unannounced, she might see him as prey and gobble him up.

To avoid this, males must perform a courtship dance that involves moving and pausing in just the right sequence to let the female know who he is and what he’s there for.

That said, it’s not uncommon for females to make a meal of their partner once the deed is done as he’s full of nutritional value.

9. Semaphore Fly

Semaphore fly courtship ritual

The semaphore fly has an impressive courtship dance that is initiated by the male when he spots a female sitting on the surface of the water. What’s amazing is that any given male may set his sights on a single female, and he won’t go down without a fight.

He’ll perform a series of aerial moves both over the top of the female and directly in front of her, and all she needs to do is sit back and watch. However, if she’s not impressed or the male isn’t large enough, she’ll fly away, and his efforts will all have been in vain.

While many attempts at mating are successful, and the female will spread her wings, allowing the male to mate with her, it’s also worth mentioning that during the courtship rituals, males will sometimes pursue and chase other males.

10. Orb-Weaver Spider

Orb-Weaver Spider courtship rituals

It would seem that female spiders have an insatiable hunger after mating, and many of them feed on their partners. The orb weaver spider is no different. It’s for this reason that males have to approach the web carefully, using pulses and vibrations to let the female know that he isn’t prey.

But it doesn’t end there, he still has a rather good chance of becoming dinner once copulation is complete, and in some cases, the males will even sacrifice themselves.

There is an upside for the males though and that’s that they get to choose their female. Usually, they will go for virgin females. The reason for this is that female orb weaver spiders can only mate twice in their lives. The organ known as the pedipalps has two openings for sperm, each of which can only be used once. What’s more, once filled with sperm, the pedipalps become plugged and cannot be inseminated by another male.

By mating with a virgin, the male can fill both openings giving him more chance of successful reproduction. 

11. Honey Bee

Honey bee courtship rituals

The male honey bee has one aim in life; to reproduce. While the females are busy gathering nectar and pollen, taking care of the hive and raising young, the drones sit around and wait for the mating flight of a queen.

They’ll gather in the air in crowds waiting for the queen, who seems to know just where to go. Once she arrives, she will mate with several drones, but it’s the end of the line for them.

Once male bees have mated, their penis becomes lodged in the female, and once they move away from her, it’s ripped from their body along with some internal organs. Of course, this means certain death. And the males that aren’t successful in mating are shunned from the hive and left to die alone. It’s brutal being a bee!

12. Dung Beetle

Dung beetle courtship rituals

While it might gross out a human if a potential lover were to turn up with a fresh pile of poop as a gift, there’s nothing more romantic to the female dung beetle. In fact, it not only provides her with a place to lay her eggs but also serves as a tasty snack for the young once they hatch.

Sometimes, the males will roll a ball of dung as a way of impressing a female but in other courtship rituals, a pair will bond and make their own ball of stinkiness. In any case, these beetles are incredibly strong, pushing balls of poo around that are much heavier than they are!

Once the ball is finished, the pair will bury it and tunnel into it, making something of a love nest. If any rogue males come along and try to take over, a certain locking of horns will follow.

13. Firefly

Firefly courtship ritual

Fireflies are a type of bioluminescent animal that use a blend of luciferin and oxygen to create flashing patterns. But these patterns aren’t haphazard, especially when it comes to mating. Each male has his own pattern designed to attract a female and, when it does, the female will begin sending her own visual light signals back.

The pair continue this illuminated courtship ritual until they’re ready to seal the deal. However, the male cannot turn up empty-handed and nuptial gifts of sperm wrapped in a packet are common in firefly mating.

And guys, listen up; size really does matter since it’s been shown that female fireflies are more likely to mate with males that bring larger gifts. That’s not the only problem males will encounter for some may get eaten by a female who tricks him with her light display into giving her a gift without having to mate.

14. Fruit Fly

Fruit flies courtship rituals

Imagine being able to control the mind of your lover with your seminal fluid! Well, that’s not a dream but a reality for the fruit fly whose sperm contains chemicals that not only stimulate egg production but also hypnotize females into not wanting to mate with other males!

But before copulation can take place and the male can dose his female up on his natural love potion, he has to chase her. And he’ll do this for up to 26 feet (7.9 meters), which is around 9 miles (14 km) in human terms! While he’s pursuing her, he will vibrate his wings to create a courtship song. What’s more, the song is unique to every mating session, with the males alternating between two songs and varying things like pitch and volume.

15. Nursery Web Spider

Nursery web spiders courtship rituals

The male nursery web spider spends some time carefully wrapping and preparing a gift before going on the hunt for a female. He’ll present her with a dead insect in the hopes that she’ll prefer to eat this instead of him. It’s for this reason that the males will favor large gifts over small.

But he’s still not willing to take any chances so, when he meets a female, the male nursery web spider will tie her up during the act. This isn’t some strange spider kink, it’s simply a way to prevent the female from attacking him.

He produces silk and uses his long legs to restrain his partner while they copulate. It’s been shown that, the longer the legs, the more likely the male would be to mate without becoming dinner!

16. Darkling Beetle

Darkling beetle courtship rituals

You could be forgiven for thinking that oral sex was an activity used exclusively by humans. But it’s not. The male darkling beetle has been seen to perform oral sex on the female, who then becomes more responsive to mating.

In some cases, the female may not like his technique and will run away. But, not one to give up at the first hurdle, the males will follow her and try again.

During studies, the mouthparts of male darkling beetles were removed and fewer attempts at copulation were successful.

17. Cicada

Cicada courtship rituals

If you’ve ever heard the chirps of a cicada chorus then what you’re actually listening to is a group of males vying for female attention. What’s more interesting is that it’s only the males that are able to make sounds using an organ known as a tymbal which uses vibrating membranes to make that classic buzzing sound.

But while all cicadas might sound the same to you and I, the females can pick out which males make the most attractive sounds, listening out for things like pitch and rhythm. What’s more, the savviest males will pick a prime spot on a tree to call out to as many females as possible within the area.

When a female hears a sound that she likes, she will respond with a snapping sound that allows the male to locate her. In fact, if you snap your fingers around a male cicada, it’s possible to trick him into thinking you’re a willing female.

18. Bed Bugs

Bed bug courtship rituals

There’s no messing about when it comes to bed bug sex. The males perform something known as traumatic insemination by which they essentially pierce the female’s body and deposit their sperm directly inside.

He has a very sharp penis which he is easily able to stab through his partner’s abdomen because who needs to do it in the traditional way! While this might be pretty traumatic for the female, she certainly doesn’t suffer afterward as female bed bugs seem to have developed a defense against disease as a result of the wound.

However, since males aren’t easily able to differentiate between their own kind and the fairer sex, they’ll often mistakenly try to inseminate other males. They don’t have this disease defense and will usually die after the attack.

19. Lacewing

Lacewing courtship rituals

Up next is the lacewing, a beautiful species of fly that uses a beautiful song to attract a mate. The lacewing will vibrate its abdomen, and these vibrations carry through the substrate to the potential mate.

When another lacewing catches the song, it’ll reciprocate and match the vibrations, resulting in a romantic duet between the pair. Interestingly, the songs of the lacewing vary by species, but it’s not until they’ve completed their duet that mating will occur. 

20. Vapourer Moth

Vapourer moth courtship ritual

When you think of a moth, you imagine a creature with wings, right? Well, not in the case of the female vapourer moth. She emerges from her cocoon, wingless, and stays that way. Instead of flying around looking for a mate, she will remain where she is and emit some seriously strong pheromones.

The male vapourer moth has large, feathered antennae that make picking up on these pheromones super easy so he knows just where to look. In fact, they’re so effective that several males may show up at once.

But once mating is over and the female has laid her eggs in that same spot she emerged, she’ll soon die.

21. Dance Flies

Dance fly courtship rituals

With a name like dance flies, it’s not hard to guess what kind of courtship ritual these critters have. But unlike a lot of species, it’s not the males that have to put in the hard work to attract a male, but the females.

She is equipped with sacs on her hairy legs which she can blow up to make herself look bigger; something that’s apparently a turn-on for male dance flies.

The females will enter a swarm where they’ll perform their mating dance, puff themselves up and try to bag a man. Studies have shown that the males will opt for females with larger sacs as this gives the impression she’ll have more eggs.

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