Thursday, March 12, 2020

Weird Insect Sex

I recently read a fun, clever SF romance called STRANGE LOVE, by Ann Aguirre. On Zylar’s world, overpopulation has led to stringent restrictions on mating and reproduction. Adults seeking mates have to participate in the Choosing, a rigorous series of trials. Having failed in four Choosings, Zylar has one more chance, or he’ll be sentenced to life as a drone, neutered and relegated to menial tasks. As the novel begins, he travels to a distant planet to meet the potential mate with whom he has been corresponding. It’s not unusual for members of his species to mate with aliens, since actual conception of offspring occurs through high-tech gene manipulation. However, a solar flare storm has damaged his ship’s AI, as a result of which he unwittingly ends up on Earth. He finds the female he mistakes for his prospective mate in the middle of an apparently devastated landscape, actually the aftermath of a battlefield reenactment weekend. He scoops up Beryl Bowman and her dog, Snaps. Even though Zylar is basically a humanoid insect, he and Beryl fall in love, and eventually they enjoy erotic intimacy despite the differences between their biology. His species has a decidedly bizarre reproductive physiology, which Aguirre based on a genus of cave-dwelling Brazilian insects.

In those four species of the tiny Neotrogla, females penetrate males with a penis-like organ called a gynosome. "Once the female has penetrated the male, her gynosome inflates, releasing a set of spines that can be used to keep the male from escaping. The sex lasts forty to seventy hours." This is a rare case in nature where the female has the ability to coerce the male into sex, the reverse of the usual power balance. In addition to collecting sperm from the male, the female receives nutritious "seminal gifts" to nourish her for the benefit of her eggs. Biologists theorize that this system evolved because of the scarcity of food in the insects' dry, barren environment. Here are a couple of articles about the weird sex lives of Neotrogla:

Scientists Discover the Gynosome

The Females Wear the Penises

In most animal species, sexual selection makes females the more choosy sex, while males will mate with any available and willing female. Those cave-dwelling insects reverse the typical pattern, with males being more picky and females competing for them. This page discusses animal sex-role reversal in general:

Wild Sex

So for SF authors who want to devise unique methods of alien reproduction, Earth biology includes potential models far odder than the well-known pregnant male seahorse—including females with "penises" and males with "vaginas." And I definitely recommend Aguirre's STRANGE LOVE; it's ingenious, suspenseful, often humorous, and sometimes sensual.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

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