The Bizarre Sexual Ritual of the Mate-Eating Alpha Female


Among some species of mantids, spiders, and other invertebrates, the females eat their male counterparts during or after mating. Biologists, apparently long fascinated by sexual cannibalism, have suggested various explanations as to why such bizarre behavior should evolve and be maintained in the animal kingdom. There are differing expert viewpoints and a variety of nonmutually exclusive explanations as to this bizarre behavior, depending on the species and whether the female eats the male during or after mating.

In doing my own limited research, I have learned that the frequency of mating partner cannibalism seems to be rather low and typically occurs for one of several reasons:

1. The female is hungry and the male mating partner is its closest source of food,

2. The female is startled somehow and reacts instinctively, often (literally) biting off the head of the male partner,

3. She’s temperamental and particular about the manner in which she is approached for mating. She likes what she likes and doesn’t react well to feeling threatened in any way.

4. The female isn’t necessarily hungry but wants to stockpile calories for the egg she hopes was just fertilized so she bites the head off,

5. In some cases, ejaculation occurs more quickly once the head of the male mating partner is removed, thus, increasing the likelihood egg fertilization will occur,

or 6. Basic survival of the fittest. Alpha females eat beta males as snacks just because they can and their will to survive is strong.

(Please note: “because she’s a sadistic bitch” and “because bitches be crazy” aren’t possible explanations for this bizarre phenomenon.)

A closer look at reason #1 will support the reasoning many researchers have for keeping female mantids well-fed prior to mating studies. If a lady is hungry, she’s more likely to see the male as a source of food and, the moment he gets close to her, she will devour her mate. Basic survival instinct.

Reason #2 indicates that sometimes the female devours her mate under circumstances outside the male’s control. If the pair is disturbed and the temperamental female becomes frightened, her immediate reaction is to whip around, snatch the male’s head in her greedy mandibles and gnaw it off. In some species, a female’s propensity to consume her mate is unrelated to the male’s behavior or outside disturbance. It’s simply part of the mating ritual.

Reason #3, however, indicates that at least in some cases, if a male doesn’t behave appropriately, he may incite trouble. Positioning is everything. A male that approaches a female from the front may meet immediate death by decapitation. If he sneaks up behind her but is just a little off on his grip, the female might bite off his head and dine on her brainless suitor as he continues to pass sperm into her body. Sometimes the impetuous female partially eats the male before he even mounts her. In this case, the headless wonder swings his legs around until his body touches hers, climbs onto her back, and copulates as though nothing were amiss.

Let’s examine reason #4 from a practical standpoint. If it’s happening during mating season, one could assume the female is attempting to mate for the purpose of procreation. She is going to do everything she can to get her egg(s) fertilized and ensure the survival of her young. What better way to do that than make sure she has her first nutrient-dense meal immediately after copulation by eating her mate?

A closer look at reason #5: Headless sex? How can it be? Copulatory movements in mantids are controlled by masses of nerve tissue in the abdomen rather than the brain. Males of some mantid species mate more effectively when decapitated. Why? A nerve center in the male’s head inhibits mating until a female is clasped. If this nerve is removed, such as when the female bites off the male’s head, all control is lost and the result is repeated copulation.

Lastly, let’s examine reason #6:  An alternative explanation for cannibalizing a prospective mate before copulation is discrimination among potential mates. Alpha females crave alpha male energy when it comes to mating rituals. A female who sees her male counterpart as weak, lazy or otherwise incapable of holding up his end of the bargain will, without hesitation, eat her potential “suitor”. Female garden spiders are more likely to cannibalize small wimpy males than large macho males. Why doesn’t a female just reject the small guys and allow them to move on? The small ones make nutritious treats. Just one male, even a small one, gives the female energy to produce more eggs. Survival of the fittest and the evolutionary process at work.

Gentlemen, want some tips for keeping your alpha lady satisfied whilst keeping your head? Need some tips for dominating the dominant female in your life? (NOTE: These tips directly correspond to the aforementioned reasons dominant females eat their lovers.) 

1. Keep her well-fed. We develop bonds when we break bread and she’s not going to bite off your head if she’s not hungry (’nuff said).

2. Make sure she feels safe. Safety ensures trust. Even if your woman is an alpha, she still wants to feel feminine. Safety means you build her self-confidence and give her what she needs to feel secure in your relationship. Also, to ensure she doesn’t react on a very primal level, make sure you are mating in a private setting where embarrassing mishaps won’t occur. Don’t invite third parties into the immediate vicinity unless previously discussed and agreed upon.

3. Women don’t like ambiguity, especially when they’re wanting to be dominated. Don’t ambush her with new surprise moves or try to trick or deceive her in any way. While getting in her head is the key to her submission, not playing games is the key to keeping yours (see #2).

4. If you’re concerned your woman may be trying to get fertilized but you’d rather risk being eaten alive (or unwittingly contributing to the gene pool) than have a simple discussion, then you have communication issues, my friend! Use your words!

5. Just learn how to keep your head during the deed. You are the one in control, here, so act like it! Don’t get so lost in the moment you become completely self-absorbed. Pay attention to your lady!

6. Don’t be a beta pussy. Seriously. Recognize the beautiful creature before you that is begging to be dominated and just step up to the plate. If you aren’t up for the challenge, move out of the way so someone who is up to the challenge can fill that role. Make the world a better place for all involved.


FYI: Some facts have been gleaned from THIS article by someone who knows more about mantids and spiders than I. While this was intended to be somewhat lighthearted and tongue-in-cheek, I did actually do a bit of research before I started rambling on. Regardless, hope you had fun reading! 😉