With Valentine’s Day around the corner, now is a good time to learn about the birds and the bees. Although the wild kingdom doesn’t have the same romantic love approach to reproduction that humans claim, animals follow countless mating rituals that we might not even be aware of. Let’s look at a few.
With their fancy feathers, it’s no surprise that birds take home the prize for most exotic courting routines. It was the peacock’s train that apparently inspired Darwin’s theory of sexual selection and the evolution of esthetic beauty. Male peacocks embody one of the most impressive courting displays of the avian world, and females are rather picky about their mates. In fact, the peacock’s female-attraction power is directly related to the perfection of a male’s spectacular train, including its overall length, the number of iridescent “eyes” that are present, and even the symmetry of their pattern.
Male bowerbirds are avian artists and spend anywhere from one week to a few months building the perfect little retreat for prospective females. These creative engineers decorate their bachelor pads with available resources, like seeds, berries, leaves, and other discarded items they can find. Many have a preferred color scheme and look for items to accommodate. Some species even use their beak or a piece of bark to paint their pad with an extra splash of color to attract a mate!
Shiny feathers on a male hummingbird are thought to indicate good health, so these birds use their brilliant plumage to their advantage. Some species will form a lek, consisting of up to 100 males looking for a match. If a female shows interests in one of the tiny suitors, he then performs a flying dance to win her over.
A variety of horned mammals also exhibit unique performances during courtship. Male impalas, for instance, have a strange way of attracting females or warning off other males: they repeatedly stick their tongue out in a display known as tongue flashing.
Size matters when it comes to the horns on a male goat or sheep. Head-butting clashes become more violent during breeding season, and the winner typically breeds with all the females in a flock or herd. So while fighting over females is frowned upon in human relationships, it’s go big or go home with the bachelor group for these hoofed mammals.
The dominant male in hippo society has the right to mate with all of his herd’s females, but gaining supremacy is a dirty job. Male hippos use their fan-shaped tails to fling their dung to attract a female and remind the herd of his territory.
While humans are concerned about smelling nice when attracting a potential mate, having a strong stench is a good thing for ring-tailed lemurs. During mating season, males compete for females through stink fights that involve smearing scent from glands onto their tail and jerking and swinging the tail to waft the sharp odor toward their opponent.
Chivalry isn’t dead in elephant society. Adult males usually don’t live with the main herd, but during breeding season, albeit short term, these emotive pachyderms spend anywhere from one hour to a few days courting a mate.
In bonobo society, females take charge. Upon entering a new troop, females will breed with all the males and gain permanent membership only after giving birth. These highly intelligent primates have also been observed using sexual behaviors for social reasons other than reproduction, such as conflict resolution.
Do you have any animal mating rituals to add to our list? Share yours in the comments.
Jenn Beening is the social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, 14 Notable Safari Park Births of 2014.