Herpetologist Photographs Male Black and White Tegus Trying to Mate with Dead Female
March 3, 2015
Necrophilia often occurs in certain reptiles. In September 2013, herpetologist Ivan Sazima witnessed not one but two male black and white tegus attempting to court and mate with a dead female black and white tegu (Salvator merianae).
Figure 1. Necrophiliac behaviour of the common tegu (Salvator merianae) at an urban park in South-eastern Brazil: (a) mounted on a recently dead female, a large male gains hold biting the skin of her neck and attempts to mate; (b) the same male bites the female’s neck, while rubbing left hindlimbs on her body; (c) holding the same, now second day-dead and rotting female, a smaller male holds the skin of her neck and attempts to mate; (d) opening his jaws widely, the same male bites the female’s head; (e) the male rests on the carcass upon ceasing his attempts for a while; (f) shortly before leaving, the male tongue-flicked the female’s head and scratched her hindbody with the right hindlimb. (Text courtesy Biotaxa).
Sazima, who published a paper on the observation in January 2015, observed the first lizard, a large male about 40cm in length approach a dead female and tongue flicked her body. The male then attempted to court and mate with the female for about five minutes until a flock of geese approached the area and he fled. The following day, Sazima photographed a smaller male attempt to mount the female, which was already exhibiting the stench of rotting flesh, with flesh flies and blow flies on her nose. The male black and white tegu attempted to mate with the now bloated dead female for about 49 minutes before he tongue-flicked the female and left the scene.
Both males exhibited the same type of mating behavior, including embracing and scratching the body, rubbing the throat and neck, and grabbing the skin of her neck with teeth,, and mounting and attempting to copulate dead lizard.
Sazima speculates that the dead female’s sex pheromones were still strong and easily overcame the smell of death that emanated from the lizard, causing the younger male to continue his courtship of the corpse, ignoring the prey odors that serve as a potential food source of the tegu.
Other lizards that have been observed attempting to mate with dead females include other Salvator and ameiva species.
Sazima’s paper, "Corpse bride irresistible: a dead female tegu lizard (Salvator merianae) courted by males for two days at an urban park in South-eastern Brazil" can be found here on the Biotaxa website.
John B. Virata keeps a western hognose snake, a ball python, two corn snakes, a king snake, and two leopard geckos. His first snake, a California kingsnake, was purchased at the Pet Place in Westminster, CA for $5. His first pet reptile was a green anole that arrived in a small box via mail order. Follow him on Twitter @johnvirata