Have you ever wondered how fireflies choose their mates? If you haven’t, then that is understandable. However, as boring as it may seem on the surface, the world of firefly dating is a lot like human dating. Male fireflies won’t give their girlfriends a mix-tape or anything, and they won’t repeatedly drive through a female’s neighborhood hoping that their crush sees how he handles his new Toyota Tercel. But some fundamental aspects relating to mate choice among fireflies are similar to how females and males behave prior to becoming an exclusive couple. We all know that there are many males out there who attempt to win over a pretty females by willingly misrepresenting themselves. Winning over a female by making false claims of grandeur is a normal stage in a young male’s development. As it turns out, human males are not the only animals on the planet that secure girlfriends by means of self-aggrandizing forms of deception.
The species of firefly referred to as Photinus ignitus uses their bioluminescence as indicators of fertility. Recent research has demonstrated that females are more likely to mate with males that display longer lasting glows. A male that glows in ten second intervals is more desirable to female fireflies than a male who glows in five second intervals. The reason for this involves a male firefly’s degree of fertility. The more fertile the male, the longer his glows will last. Males with longer lasting glows offer females a nuptial gift that cannot be resisted. This nuptial gift happens to be the male’s seed. Specifically, the gift is a sperm-packet that is rich in nutrients. Females that choose males with longer lasting glows lay more eggs. However, male fireflies from a closely related species do not seem to have a lot of integrity when it comes to sexual matters.
Males from the firefly species known as Photinus greeni display a flash pattern that does not correspond with their sperm quality. Therefore, the females in this species often get stuck with low quality nuptial gifts. It is not yet known if the males of this species are willingly displaying a false flash pattern in order to mate, or if the flash patterns serve some other purpose. There is good reason to believe that Photinus greeni males are deceiving females since male fireflies are literally built for reproduction and little else. Nearly every part of a male firefly’s anatomy is dedicated to mating and producing sperm packets. Over the course of a male’s life they will never generate more than ten sperm packets. These packets are very important to females as they contain varying amounts of protein that provide nutrients for the female’s eggs.
Do you think that the males from the Photinus greeni species manipulate their own flash patterns in order to fool females into mating? Or are the females choosing certain flash patterns that are not based on the duration of the male’s repeated glows?
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