This beetle’s misplaced affection has deadly consequences

Risking life, limb, and genitalia, jewel beetles looking for the perfect partner mistakenly mate with bottles.

It was springtime near Dongara, in Western Australia, and biologists Darryl Gwynne and David Rentz were conducting field research on insect species. At one spot by the road was a discarded beer bottle—the squat variety known in Australia as a stubbie, with bands of small bumps adorning its brown glass. And clinging to the empty bottle was an insect: a member of the jewel beetle family bent on copulation, attempting to insert its sexual organ into the bottle. 

Since Gwynne and Rentz witnessed that in 1981, other observers have documented the behavior on social media. It’s identified as an example of supernormal stimuli, in which a stimulus elicits an exaggerated response. In this case, the provocateur is the stubbie: The male beetle apparently mistakes the bottle for a giant female of its species, which has similar coloring and bumps on its shell. Males lose not only their minds for this gleaming love goddess but sometimes their lives. A beetle feverishly mounting the bottle can be attacked by ants that, in the words of Gwynne and Rentz, may bite into “the soft portions of his everted genitalia.” 

For this discovery the biologists received an Ig Nobel Prize, the tongue-in-cheek award that recognizes scientific research projects that “make you laugh, then think.” 

Read This Next

Too hot to live: Millions worldwide will face unbearable temperatures

Soils found in Antarctica seem to contain no life

The complex situation for immunocompromised people and COVID-19 vaccines

Go Further

Subscriber Exclusive Content

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet