Rassim Khelifa was studying dragonflies in the Swiss Alps when he observed a strange phenomenon: dragonfly ladies dropping out of the sky rather than deal with dude dragonflies one second longer.
New Scientist reports that Khelifa, who has been studying dragonflies for a decade, was collecting the larva of the the moorland hawker dragonfly, or Aeshna juncea, when he noticed a female dragonfly being pursued by a male suddenly crash to the ground. She then lay there motionless until he got the hint and went sniffing elsewhere. Eventually, she fluttered her wings and went about her business.
From New Scientist:
He observed 27 out of 31 females plummeting and playing dead to avoid males, with 21 of these ploys successful. Plunging at high speed is risky though, and according to Adolfo Cordero-Rivera at the University of Vigo in Spain, it may be a strategy that they use only in areas with lots of dragonflies. “Females may only behave in this way if male harassment is intense,” he says.
Khelifa is interested in seeing if the moorland hawker is the only dragonfly species that uses this avoidance maneuver. They are unusual already in that the females are not guarded by male mates while laying their eggs, which is a common practice in the dragonfly realm. This leaves them “vulnerable to harassment” when they’re popping out their spawn in the nest. They also only need to have sex once to be sufficiently fertilized and a second round can damage their reproductive tract. Damn.
There are bugs who feign death, of course, but usually to avoid being eaten by other creatures. Khelifa says these dragonflies are finding new uses for old tools, explaining, “It’s likely that females expanded its use to overcome male coercion.” Hmm. Maybe the next time I am being harassed at a bar, I’ll just face plant in the peanut bowl instead of saying I have a boyfriend.