Insect Courtship: The Real-Life Love Bug

Insects basically have two programmed instinctual drives: find some food and find some mate. While insects have devised fascinating ways to get food, that is not the focus of this article. Today, we want to talk about all the crazy and flirtatious courtship rituals insects perform when looking for mates.

Insect mating may not be big on romance but it certainly has a lot of flair. Insects have short lives and a lot of competition, so they really have to put their hearts into it. Insect mating rituals include all kinds of complex routines including dances, songs, gift-giving, and some darker inclinations like stinging, ripping, and straight-up cannibalism.


One of the most common examples of song-mating rituals is crickets. Crickets are known for using distinct mating songs that allow males to identify females and vice versa. If the singer is successful, then its song can sweep their would-be mate off their feet. Come to think of it, that sounds a lot like humans, huh?

Male Crickets will sing songs to their potential mates. Credit: WikiCommons CC-BY-SA 3.0

Other insects known for song courtship rituals include fruit flies, cicadas, and mosquitoes. Yes, even mosquitoes are capable of romance, bloody pests they are.


Dance routines are another common insect display of courtship. Mating dances can include coordinated steps, wing displays, leg movements, and showing off body parts like claws or horns. For example, some species of spiders will manipulate potential mates with their legs while species of flies will zig-zag around a line and do a little chorus line kick with their legs.

Other dances might involve touching antennas or joining other appendages, almost like holding hands and leading. Once again, we see that insects are a lot more like human beings than you would first expect.

Two flies engage in a mating dance. Credit: J. Richfield via WikiCommons CC-BY-SA 3.0


A handful of species will also give gifts to potential mates. For example, balloon flies will present potential mates with a tasty snack wrapped in silk. Some males have developed a strategy of presenting an empty sack for an easy chance at a mate. Other species might offer bodily fluids to potential mates with the hope of acceptance.

Lots of Death

And of course, lots of insect mating rituals involve violence and death, or at least the threat of death. A popular example is the sexual cannibalism that many species of mantids display. Female mantids will often completely consume the males right after copulating, simply because they are hungry after doing the deed. I’ve heard of a post-snuggle snack, but that is just ridiculous.

Female mantids will eat the heads of their male mates after copulation: Credit: O. Koemmerling via WikiCommons CC-BY-SA 3.0

Other species of insects do not actually contain dedicated genitals for copulation, so the males will punch a hole in the female’s stomach to inseminate them. This form of “traumatic insemination” is common in species of ticks and bed bugs.

Lastly, some species like bees will find a mate that is literally worth dying for. Male drone honey bees will copulate with the queen, which ends up ripping the lower half of their bodies off. At least they get to experience the sweet embrace of love before they bite the dust.