Monster of the Week: Succubi, Ants & Sperm Theft


Demonic powers. IgorIgorevich/ThinkStock

We've covered the succubus here on Monster of the Week before, from its Asian fox spirit guise to the European complexities of incubus and succubus. Yet a recent study from the University of Vermont casts new scientific light on this infernal vixen, so we must summon her once more from the depths.

Yield
IgorIgorevich/ThinkStock

To refresh, the succubus is a demonic entity that takes the from of a woman -- though a few bestial parts usually slip through to prevent the complete deception of God's horny human flock. Her goal is simple: to seduce a human male and copulate with him.

According to 15th century Bishop Alonso Tostado, a succubus may lay with a man in order to collect his semen and then morph into an incubus in order to fertilize a female victim with the ill-gotten, corrupted sperm. The whole goal here, according to Tostado's theory, is to beget devil worshipers.

Demons and Ants

Now I know what you're thinking: What natural-world organism could possibly emulate this infernal breeding plan? What creature outside of Hell would seduce a member of another species, steal its sperm and then use the seed for its own diabolical purposes?

The red queen in the middle is mating with the upside-down male on the right. Their copulatory organs are locked in place, so the male can completely let go with his legs and still be firmly attached.
Michael Herrmann & Sara Helms Cahan

Look no further than the Pogonomyrmex harvester ant -- specifically two closely-related species found along the Arizona/New Mexico border. According to a 2014 University of Vermont study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the queen of one species is known to mate with males of the other species. He, like many a succubus-duped human sinner, can't tell the difference between his own females of and those of the deceiver -- at least not at first.

By the time the male ant realizes his mistake, it's too late. Already depositing sperm within his interspecies lover, he reduces his rate of semen loss, but the female simply grapples him in place till he delivers his entire reproductive deposit, thus robbing him of the chance to pass his genes on into subsequent generations.

The queen uses the pilfered sperm to produce sterile, hybrid worker ants for her colony. It's an essential tactic because copulation within her own species results in queens but no workers. Like the succubus, she depends upon the gullibility, weakness and seed of another species to further her ends.

Monster of the Week is a - you guessed it - regular look at the denizens is of our monster-haunted world. Sometimes we'll focus on the cultural aspects, but mostly we'll look at the possible science behind a creature of myth, movie or legend. Be sure to explore the Monster Gallery as well as the Monster Science video series.


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.