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Redefining Sexual Versatility

Young, sexed up human beings might get some useful perspective on their struggles by considering the plight of Cloeon dipterum, a common species of mayfly that lives in the Northern Hemisphere. Mayflies have a period of adult sexuality that only lasts a few weeks. The short sexual life of the mayfly is common knowledge, and is reflected in the scientific name of the group of insects: Ephemeroptera.

Cloeon dipterumWhat’s less well known is that males of Cloeon dipterum are so hyper-focused on finding sexually available females that they have evolved extra parts to their eyes, called turbinate eyes, so that they can locate single females as they swerve through giant mayfly swarms in the air. Going to a bar to pick up sexual partners is predictable and calm compared to the chaos that mayflies have to endure.

What’s more, young Cloeon dipterum don’t just have adolescent angst. They go through periods where they are going through so many changes that they literally cannot breathe. In a paper published in the September issue of the journal Freshwater Science, researchers report on observations that when larval members of the species molt, they lose the lining of the tracheal systems through which they breathe, and have to go through the insect equivalent of holding their breath while the lining reforms. Global warming may increase the respiratory stress of molting for these insects, the researchers speculate.

But, for those who make it to the brief mayfly adulthood, sexual mores are fairly flexible, according to the Journal of the North American Benthological Society. Female mayflies are able to produce young without mating at all, but the females continue to mate with males nonetheless every now and then, in order to add a touch of tangy genetic diversity to the mix.

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