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Romance is For Humans — Not Insects
by ARS - Autumn Canaday
February 14, 2021

As you ponder or participate in the romantic rituals of Valentine's Day, consider that the art of "courting" is something that is also familiar to the insect world. The only difference is that humans often struggle with romantic decisions, but insects are genetically programed to respond to mating opportunities.

This is the time of year when many are encouraged to drop their pride and offer an engagement ring to the one who makes your heart swell with affection. But don't worry if you struggle with your pride and need a bit of motivation before Valentine's Day. By chance, have you heard of the male Tephritid?

The Tephritid is often known by the elaborate, colorful pattern on its wings and is no more than 10 mm. The Tephritid has more than 300 different species in its family and can be found throughout the United States and Canada. It's likely that you can find these insects romping through various fruit orchards, or in any common pasture or field. The bad news is that some species can be agricultural pests, due to their feeding on numerous plants, flowers, and vegetables. The good news is that the Tephritid has interesting courting behavior that is guaranteed to outshine the most chivalrous among us.

The male Tephritid typically moves its wings in a ritualistic motion after first using chemical pheromones to attract its mate. Once the female is drawn close to her suitor, the male will wave its wings in a specialized courtship dance that involves a slow up and down movement that varies in motion. These movements often involve flicking, waving, and sometimes the fanning of its wings. This usually gains the eye of a female, but if another male Tephritid has his eye on the same female, things can get rather complicated. The competition between the two suitors will begin to escalate as they vibrate their wings in an attempt to intimidate the other.

Things are much less problematic when the male Tephritid doesn't have to compete for the chance to gain the female Tephritid's affection. Some species even offer a mating gift that's organically made from a liquid inside the male's mouthparts. In these circumstances, if the female agrees to mate, the male Tephritid will offer this liquid to the female in a gesture that looks like a quick peck on the lips.

It's all quite endearing, but we must remember that the female Tephritid has the right to ignore the male Tephritid's ritual wing dance and advances before deciding to fly away to another pasture or field.

The Agricultural Research Service is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific in-house research agency. Daily, ARS focuses on solutions to agricultural problems affecting America. Each dollar invested in agricultural research results in $17 of economic impact.

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