What are nuptial gifts? I knew that a gift is something that is given from one person to another; as for nuptial? I had no idea. So apparently the word “nuptial” comes from the Latin word “nuptiālis” which is a marriage or wedding.
Okay, cool. So basically wedding gifts, right? Kind of. So in nature, (generally) male animals will give some sort of gift to females during their courtship. These gifts go beyond gametes which means these animals go a little above and beyond what college students might consider gifts.
One pretty cool example of a nuptial gift is the “love dart” of the certain snails including the Helix aspersa, or Garden Snail.
The first thing I learned when reading about this is that garden snails are hermaphroditic. This means that the reproductive organs of both sexes are present but they do not self-fertilize. When snails court one another sometimes they will “fire” darts at their “love” interests. Interestingly enough this is a possible and very likely origin of the well-known cupid myth.
So these love darts are made of calcium, like snail’s shells, so scientists believed that it was a nuptial gift of calcium. Another hypothesis is that poking the receiver might indicate the shooter’s readiness to mate. However, as many human guys should know, this is not effective.
So very recently, Ron Chase of McGil University discovered that the love dart is a tool of “male manipulation.” I don’t want to know how Chase figured this out, but he discovered that of the millions of sperm that snails receive, only about 0.025% survive.
According to Chase’s research, the “love darts” contain some sort of mucus that will contract the female reproductive system to raise the survivability of the sperm.
Kazuki Kimura of Tohoku University also did some research on these love darts and discovered that the darted snail faces some severe consequences as a result of the stabbing. They will lay fewer eggs and live only 75% of the normal snail life-span. So I guess even though some gift was transferred, maybe this isn’t the happiest example.
Depending on who you are, maybe the gift of the Great Grey Shrike might strike you as more interesting. The male Shrike will go hunting for small mammals and large insects and make a kebab out of them by impaling them on thorns. They will present the gift to their love interest and she will generally choose based on the size of the prey.
To me, this makes a lot of sense because it’s natural to choose the mate with the largest impaled prey because it’s a demonstration of strength and hunting prowess. Females will likely want their offspring to have the highest chance of survival and choose the most suitable and capable male.