Vampires and human sexuality go hand in hand, from the allure of teen heartthrob "Twilight" vamps to the outright vampire sexploitation films of director Jesús Franco. The mythology itself is intertwined with cultural attitudes about sex, as well as the destructive nature of sexually transmitted diseases.
But that's all human cultural weirdness, right? We confuse issues of morality with illness. We mold our fears into monsters and then make vampire flicks full of chest glitter, bodices and fanged vixens who hunger for human blood.
But as the good Dr. Anton Jessup proves once more in the latest episode of Monster Science, the world of natural biology can always equal or surpass our weirdest fantasies. If a seductive female vampire is essentially another species that preys on human males, then fireflies of the genus Photuris basically practice the same scheme.
Female Photuris bugs, or femme fatale lightning bugs, mimic the flash signals of a mating female Photinus lightning bug — a related but separate species. But she doesn't want to mate with Photinus males. No, she wants to kill them and consume their nutrients, especially their defensive steroid lucibufagins, which provides protection against predatory jumping spiders. Our femme fatale bug can't produce the steroid herself, so she has to seduce and kill in order to acquire the power-up.
Scientific examples like this cast new light on fictional horrors — and even challenge us to reimagine them. How could we tweak existing vampire myths to include the theft of some vital human nutrient, steroid or compound besides blood?
Join Dr. Anton Jessup for the remainder of October as he and his assorted cohorts explore the interplay between unnatural monsters and natural world biology, from the sexual reproduction of sexy vampires, alien husbands and "Alien" facehuggers to the science of Godzilla, dragons and human-replacing pod people.