The custom of giving nuptial gifts, as a prelude to sex and the softening aftermath of affairs that begin with whams and end with nary a bang, has evolved in a number of insect lineages, whereby males add a dose of meat to their genital offerings, which serves to fortify their mates and by proxy their putative offspring, buy time such that sperm transfer is maximised and rogue inseminations discouraged, or perform this cocktail of tasks and more in the game of throes that dominate the final, fleeting stage of six-legged lives.
Mecopterans and dance flies typically do the deed snack in hand, although some empidids are happy with a stand-in bribe of empty love balloons. Many butterflies and moths flock to damp soil, sweaty skin, animal droppings and decaying bodies, from which they ingest a measure of salt and amino acids, flavours absent from the folivorous escapades of their youth and missing from floral nectaries – these minerals enjoy a second life as conjugal supplements that boost the viability of unscaled pillars. A more extreme case of coital investment is practiced by humpbacked grigs, orthopteran relics of which the lads sing to be suppers, using their sclerotised tegmina to woo a mate before allowing their partners to mount their backs and munch on fleshy hindwings. The money shot then follows the bleeding edge, and the female enjoys extra helpings of protein in the spermatophylax, a scrotum-like bundle of nutrients attached to the ejaculatory package, which occupies her senses until an accompanying ampulla has downloaded all its contents into her chambers and is fit for nothing more than a hollow meal.
This exchange of favours, of food for a fuck, foreplay with a turn to vore, sans the loss of dorsal appendages, is shared by katydids, be they garden-variety minstrels or moansters restricted to fragile woods. Tettigoniids are rather less conspicuous than short-horned grasshoppers, but a fair number can be seen by the paths that run from Venus Drive to the higher core of the central nature reserves, clinging to the blades of unmown grasses and rampant stems of Aystasia, Urena and Leea, chewing on seeds, buds and shoots, or changing out into new coats of chitin, song in wing or sword in rear end: young coneheads that have yet to trade their red and black livery for the sombre tones of later instars, large, leggy striders with wings that resist contrast against a wall of waxy green, and lumbering giants with tibial spines used to skewer creatures with nary a clue that some browsers have acquired a taste for beef.
In deeper trails, where the canopy is denser and floor is thick with leaves, spores and an epilayer of moist, mushy air, there are limber hunters, still largely a mystery of marvels, and shy huggers of leaves, who melt away when they stretch forth their arms and fall flat on a plane of veins, under capes that mask their segments and disclose little of their forms until the day draws to a close and forces them to hitch their joints, fold up their tents and take a hike through the treetops, measured steps in pursuit of a night train of thoughts driven by hunger, by the countdowns of silent body clocks, and to distraction by recursive chirps, scratches, trills, clicks, whirs, buzzes, tsicks, rattles and croaks – a chorus of frequencies tuned to find a match in a tutti of perfect pitch black velvet underground railroute of contention, a plea of sylvan desperation too rooted in natural harmonies to reach minds limited to what accounts for reason, heedless of sinking baselines and blinded by compulsions that are all too, and solely, human.
Hoppers, be they steamed or built from tougher strings, tend to be largish insects, certainly a handful or more of spines, spurs and slicing limbs. It was thus a surprise to find one recent night, in a loop out of the usual zone, a track fraught with demential wanderings and far too bright for flights of intimate concentration, a pair of bush-crickets on a low branch, dripping with guilt and bearing, in the jaws of one, evidence of a coupling minute and still too fresh for her mate to disavow, a gelatinous slug she bit into while other secretions wormed their way up her orifices to become the sons and daughters of a smoking gun. Barely two-thirds of an inch long, the katydids seemed a mite too young to be trading gametes on an island where such deeds straddle a fence that makes wolves out of sheep, shoots both and leaves them out as invitations to trepass virgin ground.
In less hallowed settings, the katydids were keyed out as Lipotactes maculatus, one of a small subfamily of flightless tettigoniids restricted to primary forests from southern China to Borneo and Sulawesi. Lipotactinae consists of small to mid-sized orthopterans in two genera, Lipotactes and Mortoniellus, which differ in pronotal sculpture and the shape of the forehead. The insects have large, bulging eyes on a broad but short head with a generous angle of rotation, the better to follow the trajectory of active prey, which they lunge at when within range, grab with their mandibles and secure with strongly spined fore and medial legs. Observed victims include small flies, juvenile hoppers, grass and commercial fish food. Some species are arboreal and one dwells in savannas, but lipotactines are more commonly associated with the understorey of well-shaded jungles.
Described in 1922 from a holotype collected at Bukit Timah, Lipotactes maculatus is a "handsome and extraordinary little insect" with "deep chestnut" eyes and a general shine of "brussels brown". The hindlegs are distinctly marked, with an "elongate-trigonal patch of blackish brown" spanning the base of the femur to the dorsal margin. The female bears a "tawny" oviposior and lack wings altogether, a loss of little concern to katydids at home in the tangle of low vegetation. Males have rudimentary tegmina with stridulatory veins that emit "crescendo verses of variable length", from terse asides at rivals to symphonies in microseconds. One such ode had long fulfilled its task that evening, and the two were already in the final stages of their fling, a prelude to separation, still fraught with anxiety on the part of the lover who lingered on, less so perhaps from a desire to prolong the pain but the instinct to guard his deposits and ensure that she does not add his babies to her happy meal or succumb to further temptations that may pull the plug on his party and spoil the jizz of his gift.