Battle of the Beetle Sexes

Human sexuality tends to provide us with enough complexity on its own, but the occasional glance at the rest of the animal kingdom helps put everything in perspective.

Yep, according to a new study, the beetles with the "longest and spiniest genitalia" experience the most success in passing on their genes. National Geographic even provides a photo gallery of "bizarre beetle genitalia" if your boss isn't watching over your shoulder. Scientists believe these spines help to anchor the male in place for the duration of the coupling, internally injuring the female in the process.

Don't drag all your anthropomorphic baggage into this, though. I think doomed mad scientist Seth Brundle put it best in "The Fly." "Have you ever heard of insect politics?" he asks. "Neither have I. Insects don't have politics. They're very brutal. No compassion, no compromise."

It's all a game of evolution with these beetles. The males steadily evolve to better carry out their central genetic mission. In turn, the females adapt to better withstand these trysts and, indeed, fight off suitors. As with any adventurous love life, however, it's difficult for these beetles to get much else done evolutionwise. Instead of adapting to better survive their environments and predators, they evolve to better fight and couple with each other. Talk about a troubled relationship.

Plus, scientists worry that rapid reproductive adaptation may overspecialize these six-legged love machines, creating new species with ever-shrinking gene pools. According to the article, there are as many as 30 different species of seed beetles that differ from each other solely in the complexity of their torturous genitalia.

Sex wasn't always this violent. BBC News ran a story today about the newly discovered fossil origins of internal fertilization among fish 365 million years ago. Things were so much simpler then.

Learn more about the sex lives of insects at How Caterpillars Work How Cockroaches Work How Sex Works How Termites Work How Wasps Work

About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.