Courtship isn’t all chocolates, candlelight dinners, and feet pressing through the warm sand; take Cupid, classical mythology’s bow-wielding cherub of erotic love. One of our primary metaphors for romantic attraction is one of violence, yet this isn’t a strictly human invention.
Hermaphroditic land snails carry erotic violence beyond mere metaphor: for these slimy critters, courtship involves the forcible injection of chitinous arrows, one snail into the other. Since these snails are hermaphroditic, both partners can wield the weapon of love.
While this might sound like a perverse sadomasochistic ritual, it is a form of procreative selection, which increases the likelihood of reproductive success. Once struck with a love dart, the wounded partner secretes a substance which enhances the probability of sperm survival. According to one study, successful deployment of a love dart can double the dart-shooting partner’s chance at paternity.
Composed of calcium, these darts also provide an injection of this vital mineral. Even so, as National Geographic explains, it is also possible that these darts yield only short-term benefits and may even cause early death.
Might there be a link between these brutal courtship procedures and our notions of romance? Neurobiologist Ron Chase thinks so. His research reveals that the snail love dart process of sexual selection was well-documented by the 17th century, and could very well have influenced the Cupid myth.