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Lying to Get Laid Might Be an Evolutionary Adaptation

Lying to Get Laid Might Be an Evolutionary Adaptation: PeopleImages.com / Getty Images

PeopleImages.com / Getty Images

Anyone who’s swiped on Tinder or OkCupid is well aware that a lot of people try to score dates by engaging in some form of deception. Some make themselves look better by uploading old photos of their younger selves. Others try to pass as big-time socialites by only sharing pics from high-profile events or restaurants or as VIPs by posting pics of them on yachts, in fast cars or visiting vacation hot-spots. Some take it to the extreme by impersonating other people entirely, the inspiration behind MTV’s Catfish.

Both men and women are guilty of deception in online dating, but the internet didn’t give rise to it. Deception has been rampant at your local bar every weekend way before Wifi was a thing. Guys drive up in UberXLs wearing blazers to give the impression of status. Women wear push-up bras to make their breasts look larger and heels to make them look taller.

We’re not alone in this. In nature, sexual deception is everywhere. Scientists have found that many species, from animals to insects to plants, practice sexual deception. Here’s a look at some of the most fascinating forms of sexual deception in nature—and what they all have in common.


THE ITSY, BITSY, LYING SPIDER
Scientists have found that the males in a few species of spiders present females with a “gift” in order to mate with them. Specifically, a male will offer a female insect wrapped in silk, which she then munches on while he mates with her. (We obviously aren’t the first species to combine food with sex.) But let’s say a male spider doesn’t have a nutritive gift to offer, perhaps because he’s hungry and doesn’t want to share his dinner?

It’s actually common for male spiders to wrap up inedible objects like plant seeds instead, thereby creating “worthless gifts.” When presented with one of these worthless gifts, female spiders can’t tell the difference. The female will typically let the male mate with her while she starts chewing on her gift. It’s only when she discovers she’s been duped that she call things off. Simply put, male spiders have learned that they can exploit females for sexual purposes by giving them crappy presents.

AS THEY SAY, THERE ARE PLENTY MORE FISH IN THE SEA
Cuttlefish are just one of many aquatic creatures in which males take advantage of deception in order to create more mating opportunities for themselves. Small male cuttlefish are capable of “female impersonation”—that is, they can change their appearance and behavior in order to look like females. The disguise allows them to get close enough to mate with females that are being guarded by larger males. The peacock blenny is another fish in which small males mimic the appearance of females in order to invade females’ nests and fertilize their eggs.

THAT REALLY STINGS
Plants also engage in sexual deception. Consider the orchid, which releases scents that mimic the smell of pheromones from female bees. This makes them irresistible to male bees and causes those bees to try to mate with the flowers. (You can watch a video of a bee humping an orchid here.) These bees then become pollinators that move from one orchid to the next, helping these plants to produce seeds.

So what does all this deception—from humans to spiders to fish to orchids—have in common? It’s always in the interest of passing genetic information from one generation to the next. Every living thing is designed to reproduce and those that fail to pass along their genetic material face extinction. This means that members of a given species have to adapt to the unique reproductive challenges they face. When the competition to mate is intense, creative reproductive strategies, like deception, offer a competitive edge.

Of course, not all members of a species practice deception. Indeed, it’s most likely to emerge among those that don’t have the most sought-after traits among their species, like smaller male cuttlefish, which face an obvious disadvantage when compared to larger males.

The key takeaway? Don’t hate the guy who’s using pics from the early Obama Administration on his dating profile. As creepy as it sounds, sexual deception might just be an evolutionarily adaptation and just another part of human nature.


Justin Lehmiller, PhD is a sex educator and researcher at Ball State University and author of the blog Sex and Psychology. Follow him on Twitter @JustinLehmiller.


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