NU Professor Discusses Mating Habits on National Television
By DAVID PETERSON
August 7, 2009
Filed under Uncategorized
National University’s own Dr. Michael Maxwell recently appeared on Animal Planet’s new show, Ms. Adventure, to discuss the strange mating habits of praying mantises.
Last November Ms. Adventure and her crew traveled to San Diego to meet with Dr. Maxwell, who has a Ph.D. in animal behavior and teaches many different science classes at National. They spent two days filming in a canyon at the Los Peñasquitos Reserve, and while there set up several pairs of male and female mantises in order to capture their bizarre mating ritual.
“They filmed me talking about the mantises and filmed males and females” said Dr. Maxwell. “It is more of a show for families and kids, so I had to keep editing myself. I had to keep saying ‘mating’ instead of ‘copulating’.”
But what is so weird about these mantises mating habits? About 20-25 percent of the time, according to Dr. Maxwell, the female will attack the male at some point. She then chews off his head, but his headless body still tries to mate with her, sometimes for up to 24 hours.
How is this possible? Dr. Maxwell explained that mantises have nerve bundles that will continue to function for hours after the head has been removed. “Basically the key is as long as the male’s body doesn’t dry out the nerve bundles will continue for up to 24 hours. Nerve clusters control his legs and sexual organs, so basically he’s like a headless zombie that can still copulate” Dr. Maxwell has personally witnessed in nature and in cages a headless male mating with a female, then returned the next day and found the mantises still mating.
Until recently, even during the ’80s and ’90s, some believed that this odd behavior occurred 100 percent of the time when mantises mated. “They thought that the female would chew off his [the male's] head to release his sexual behavior, and they weaved a bizarre semi-true scenario around the mantis where the female didn’t occasionally attack the male but that she always did so in order to be able to mate,” said Dr. Maxwell. In nature, the male is able to mate with and then escape the female about 4 out of 5 times.
Dr. Maxwell did say that there are over 2,000 species of mantis in the world, and only about 40 or so have been studied extensively. “In about 75 percent of the species we have seen there is cannibalism,” said Dr. Maxwell. The reason so few of these 2,000 species have been studied, explained Dr. Maxwell, is that so many species of mantis live in jungles or other tropics. “There’s all these fascinating species in the tropics that people haven’t spent time researching because of the difficulty of getting to them.”