10 Strange Animal Mating Rituals (Slideshow)
So you think you’ve had some strange dates? This Valentine’s Day, The Nature Conservancy compiled the top 10 most bizarre examples of love in the wild.
“Nature can get pretty wild, especially when procreation is at stake,” says Sanjayan, lead scientist of The Nature Conservancy. “While we may find mating habits of some critters bizarre, they just might remind you of someone you know.”
Unfortunately, many of these creatures are at risk of disappearing forever because of habitat loss, climate change and other threats.
“Nature is powerful, but for many animals, their future now depends not only on their mating prowess but on what help we give them. If we don’t protect their homes that future is in jeopardy,” explains Sanjayan.
Do these wild lovers remind you of anyone?
Prairie Chickens: Strut Your Stuff
Male prairie chickens attract females with loud “booming” noises that can be heard miles away. They also perform an elaborate dance — lowering their heads, erecting their neck feathers, inflating orange air sacks, dropping their wings and pointing their tails, all while frantically stamping their feet. Listen to the boom and see a video of their dance.
(Image: Prairie chickens. Source: Harvey Payne.)
Deep Sea Anglerfish: Losing Yourself in Love
Male anglerfish bite their mates and permanently fuse to their bodies. Over time, the male’s brain, eyes and organs dissolve until he turns into a small lump, releasing sperm whenever the female is ready to lay eggs. Scientists first thought the lumps were fins before discovering they were the males.
Next: American Burying Beetle
(Image: Anglerfish. Source: NOAA/NMFS/SEFSC Pascagoula Laboratory, collection of Brandi Noble/Flickr via a Creative Commons license.)
American Burying Beetle: Family Oriented
These beetles not only are monogamous but also raise their children together. Expectant parents bury dead birds or mice and lay eggs nearby. The parents lie on their backs and use their legs like a conveyor belt to move carcasses up to 200 times their own weight. Once hatched, larvae feed on the carcass or the parents rub their wings together to call the larvae and regurgitate meat into their mouths.
(Image: Burying beetles. Source: Brett Cortesi courtesy of Roger Williams Park Zoo.)
Freshwater mussels: The Bait and Switch
Male mussels release sperm into the water, which females capture downstream. Larvae hatch inside the females’ shells but must then attach to a fish to grow. To lure fish, mother mussels wave appendages that look like worms, crayfish or other bait. Some emit a smell of rotting flesh to attract scavenger fish. When fish approach, the mussels shoot the larvae onto the fish.
(Image: Mussels. Source: tlindenbaum/Flickr via a Creative Commons license.)
Lions: One Track Mind
When lions mate, the coupling usually lasts only about 20 seconds. But the pair will repeat the act every 20 minutes or so — sometimes up to 40 times a day. This will continue for three to seven days straight, with the male and female neglecting to hunt or eat during the entire time.
Next: Prairie Vole
(Image: African lion pair, male and female. Source: WELS.net/Flickr via a Creative Commons license.)
Prairie Vole: Born to be Faithful
Unlike most rodents prairie voles are monogamous. Scientists have discovered that prairie vole faithfulness is caused by hormone receptors located in their brain’s reward centers, giving them the sense of pleasure from monogamy.
Read about other animals that mate for life.
Next: Bower Birds
(Image: Prairie vole. Source: Roger W. Barbour.)
Bower Birds: Bachelor Pads
Male bowers of Australia and New Guinea build large and elaborate bachelor pads on forest floors, decorated with flowers, leaves, shells and even stolen coins — anything they think will attract a mate. Some paint the walls with chewed berries, others build lawns of moss. Drab males build the flashiest pads to compensate for their dull colors.
Next: Tree Crickets
(Image: Bower bird, native to Australia. Source: oddsock/Flickr via a Creative Commons license.)
Tree Crickets: Smooth Talker
Male crickets bite holes in leafs to amplify their love songs and attract females. Once they mate, however, male sperm packets don’t fit inside the females’ bodies so a portion hangs out. The ever-ravenous females try to eat the packet before fertilization can occur. To distract her, the male sings and secretes a tasty goo from his back, feeding her until the eggs are fertilized.
(Image: Tree cricket. Source: gbohne/Flickr via a Creative Commons license.)
Day Octopus: Keep Your Distance
Female day octopi are known to eat their partners after mating. When a male finds a female, he extends one arm and waves. If she responds, he uses his arm to place a sperm packet under the female’s body covering. The octopi stay at an arm’s length, appearing as though they are holding hands.
Read about the Raja Ampat islands where the octopus and other amazing underwater creatures live.
Next: Little Brown Bats
(Image: Day octopus at the Waikiki Aquarium. Source: brxO/Flicker via a Creative Commons license.)
Little Brown Bats: Waiting for the Right Time
Because these bats mate in the autumn but hibernate during winter, females store sperm for seven months to delay pregnancy until springtime. While bats normally hang upside down, females stand upright to give birth and catch their babies in a membrane between their legs. Newborns cling to their mothers even during nighttime flights as they search for food.
Read more about a deadly disease that’s killing little brown bats all over the Northeast.
(Image: Little brown bat. Source: Ann Froschauer/UWFWS via a Creative Commons license.)