Gold Swift Moth's Sex Life is a 'Karma Sutra of Mating Patterns'

First Posted: Dec 22, 2014 12:40 PM EST

You might not think that insects have complicated sex lives. When it comes to a certain small brown moth, though, you may be surprised. Scientists have taken a closer look at the gold swift moth (Phymatopus hecta) and have found that it has some of the most complex mating patterns in the insect world.

When it comes to this moth, courtship is anything but simple. The scientists found an array of different courtship "dances." In fact, some individuals could switch to alternative methods if their first attempts weren't successful.

"With most insects, you expect to find a fairly set mating process," said John Turner, one of the researchers, in a news release. "In moths like this, you might see the female staying still, emitting a scent and then mating with the first male moth to arrive. The love life of the gold swift moth is a veritable Karma Sutra of mating patterns and positions. Colleagues have commented that this is the most elaborate mating procedure known in any insect and I have certainly not observed anything to surpass it."

In this case, the researchers found that the female moth hangs from foliage and emits a scent; this attracts the male. They also found that the male also can hang from the foliage to attract a female. The scientists also saw instances where a group of males formed a hovering swarm, females flew past and the males would fly out of the swarm to follow them.

In addition, the researchers found an unexpected variety in the moths' sexual position. Most insects stick rigidly to a single position, but it seems that moths had more than that.

"I intervened on some occasions to stop the mating," said Turner. "The insects would pause and then resume using a different pattern. It started to look a bit like a human courtship, with the moths doing it every which way and having a whole range of tactics for attracting a mate."

The scientists believe that this complicated sex life may be due to the relative scarcity of mating grounds. This confused environment may encourage the moths to develop a variety of ways to find a mate.

The findings are published in the journal Biological Journal of the Linnean Society.

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