A couple of years ago, Rassim Khelifa, a biologist at the University of Zurich, published a paper about the female moorland hawker dragonfly. He had spent a significant amount of time watching the dragonflies in the Swiss Alps, and was legit shook after realizing that yes, sometimes the females would fake their own deaths to avoid having sex.
Khelifa learned that after mating once, female dragonflies lay their eggs and are ready to just go about whatever dragonfly business they need to deal with that day. But when a second—or third, or tenth—male aggressively approached them, the females would freeze, fall to the ground, and play dead until the dudes lost interest.
According to National Geographic, only five species, including the moorland hawker and the praying mantis, are known to practice "sexual death feigning," but they should probably add one Australian twentysomething to that list too.
The 21-year-old, who was given the pseudonym "Alistair" by Australia's ABC News, had been in a brief relationship with a woman named Rachel. They'd met at the pub where they both worked—she was a server, he was the chef—and everything was fine enough until he broke his hand in a fight and borrowed $1,000 from her because his injuries kept him out of work. Rachel eventually broke up with him for totally unrelated reasons, and he'd only given her $300 back before he ghosted her completely.
He ghosted his friends too, and when Rachel talked to them, she learned that he'd also borrowed money from them and he owed more than $2,200 by the time he disappeared. "The initial story was he'd gone to rehab in Queensland," Rachel said. "The moment we went 'OK, he owes everyone money', the anxiety and urgency of the situation ramped up. The story was falling apart really, really quickly."
Shortly after that, a mutual friend called Rachel to tell her that Alistair had died, and his mom told everyone that he'd been murdered after taking money from a biker gang. The news hurt, she grieved her loss, and ultimately tried to move on.
Two years passed. Rachel and a friend were at a restaurant in their hometown, and she realized that Alistair's brother worked there. She told the server that she'd like to say hello to him, and was told that he wasn't in, but his brother Alistair was. "I just went into shock," she said.
When she asked to see Alistair, a manager materialized beside their table instead and asked them both to leave. The two women called the restaurant to talk to Alistair, and were told that no one with that name worked there. Their next call was to the cops, who shrugged them off. A few minutes later, Alistair's mother texted her and said that her "scene" had cost her son his job.
Rachel tried to move on again, but she ran into him at a different restaurant a couple of years later. "We made eye contact, and you could see he recognized me," she said. "I was like, 'Long time no see!' And he went, 'Oh yeah, it has been a long time.'" When she started to ask him questions, he pretended that he had no idea who she was, because Alistair really sounds like the fucking worst.
She still has no idea why he went full moorland hawker and faked his own death, which probably would've been an ineffective solution even if he hadn't stayed in the same town.
"The main reason why [death fakers] usually get caught isn't because they get their image caught on security camera or they're just spotted somewhere,” Elizabeth Greenwood, the author of Playing Dead, told VICE in 2017. “People get caught because they can't cut ties with their previous lives, that means they still try to reach out to family members or stay in touch some sort of way… You have to alter everything about yourself, so you have to go somewhere completely different than most people would expect."
The Swiss Alps seem to be a good choice—at least for dragonflies.