10 Wild and Wacky Animal Mating Rituals (Part-2)
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1. Bowerbirds: When looking for a mate, bowerbirds (found in northern parts of Australia) put in a little more sophistication and effort into the process unlike a lot of other animals. Their women have a rather unique taste in interior decoration (of the males’ bachelor pads) and look for a quality male. Female bowerbirds need to be wowed and sufficiently impressed, before they make their choice in a mate. As a result, male bowerbirds put in a lot of thought and hard work to make that good visual first impression on the ladies.
The male bowerbirds start by building a swanky bachelor pad called a bower. These bowers are usually pretty complex-looking, tunnel like structures made out of densely woven twigs and sticks, while the path and surrounding areas are decorated with pebbles, stones, shells, feathers, flowers and any kind of shinny or colorful decorative objects they can get hold of. It’s not all thrown together either, but rather the bowerbird thoughtfully arranges each object to look good and is quite particular about the color scheme and placement of everything (so much so, that they can tell if you try and mess with them, by adding an odd colored stone or object to their masterpiece). If you Google around for pictures of a bowerbirds nest, it’s rather impressive to see just how creative they can get with their decorating. Bowerbirds are also pretty competitive and will sometimes resort to going over to another bird’s bower to steal stuff or mess it up. Females visit these elaborate bowers and the male strut their stuff putting on a little show and dance for them, while they scope his place. Once she’s taken note, she flies off to the next bower, reserving judgment until she’s seen what some of the other males have to offer.
The younger female bowerbirds are quick to judge a book by its cover, or in this case, a bowerbird by his bachelor pad and they pick the male with the best looking bower. However, the more mature female bowerbirds (once she’s already fallen for the guys with the fancy bachelor pads and mated a few times) aren’t so easily impressed with just their homes and start looking for more of a courtship from the male himself. They’re more interested in the entire package (taking into considering the male’s looks -i.e ones with brighter and fancier feathers, long tails , pretty eyes along with their intricate songs and complex dances, not just their homes. Researchers have observed that not all females find the same traits in the males attractive. They are each attracted to different traits or a combination of them. That said, it has also been observed that the most popular male bowerbirds have it all- good looks, the artistic talent displayed through their beautiful homes and the most charm, courting their ladies with song and dance.
2. Argonaut Octopus: This male mollusc has a very sacrificial way of impregnating their female counterparts. The male has one arm longer than his others, known as a hectocotylus, which is used to transfer sperm to the female. The arm stores up the sperm, and when the male finds a female he wants to mate with, he will detach the arm during the mating process. Specifically, once the “arm” finds the pallial cavity of the female, it gets inserted. A “Funnel-mantle locking apparatus,” basically a Chinese finger torture device for the octopus, then keeps the arm from escaping.
The female will store the hectocotylus in her cavity. Unfortunately for this sea-faring Casanova, the male is only able to copulate once. The female, however, is capable of mating several times over her lifespan. In fact, females have been found that have several hectocotylus in their pallial cavity at the same time. (Read more in- There is an Octopus with a Detachable Penis)
3. Emperor Penguins: Although it’s a myth that emperor penguins are monogamous for life, they do have a pretty interesting mating ritual. These majestic flightless birds of Antarctica, spend a lot of their lives at sea and travel long and far distances to pair up and mate about once a year (around March-April). Their mating process begins with the male emperor penguin staying rooted to one place, making a ‘trumpeting’ mating calls that sound similar to that of a bugle. Each male has a distinct call, that the females can recognize over the rest. Once they pair up, the two stand breast to breast and repeatedly bow to one another to signal their assent to mate.
Like most birds, penguins don’t have external genitalia in the form of penises or vaginas. They typically copulate through genital openings called cloaca (an orifice that serves multiple functions like defecating, urinating, and reproduction), in what is called a “cloacal kiss”(where the male presses his cloaca to the females to transfer sperm). They may do this a number of times during the course of the breeding season to increase the chance of fertilizing the female’s egg. Once fertilized the female goes through a gestation period of about 63 days, after which she lays one or two eggs. Unfortunately if she happens to lay two eggs, they tend to abandon one as they are unable to support both. She then carefully transfers the egg from her pouch like- folds of skin between her legs to her mate with minimum exposure to the harsh weather (the egg wouldn’t survive more than a few seconds on the icy ground or in the freezing wind). He then tucks the egg away under his folds of skin above his feet and keeps it safe and warm for the next two whole months. During this time male penguin balances the egg on his feet, goes without food (losing about a third of their body weight) and huddles together with other male penguins to keep warm, while the females go out to feed. Once the egg hatches, the females return and by identifying their mates call finds her way back to her mate and baby chick. The female then takes over looking after the chick, while the male finally goes to find a bite to eat.
It is believed that the penguins generally try to find their same mate in the subsequent mating seasons, however in most cases they are unable to and so end up picking new mates. (It’s estimated that around 15% manage to pair up for two consecutive seasons and only 5% for a third season.) So while they are monogamous for each breeding season, they aren’t necessarily for life.
4. Red-Sided Garter Snakes: Contrary to the quasi-monogamous emperor penguins above, the red-sided garter snake takes on hundreds of mates at one time. Every spring after a period of hibernation, the female red sided garter snake, also known as “the town bike”, emerges from her den and releases a pheromone that literally attracts every male garter snake in the vicinity to her. Usually in the hundreds, they surround her forming a writhing ball of snakes, each trying to mate with the single female in the center. To add to that, each male garter snake is equipped with two penises (hemipenes) on either side of its body to increase its chances of aligning himself with the female. This goes on until one of the males finally mates with the female. Interestingly, the female can store the semen from the males for several years before ultimately incubating baby snakes in her lower abdomen. This spectacle of the garter snake mating ball has even become something of a tourist attraction in Manitoba, Canada.
To make matters even weirder, there are some male red-sided garter snakes that impersonate the female pheromone, fooling all the males to come to them and they end up in the center of a mating ball of snakes. Scientists say that the reasoning behind this could be for added protection from the cold and from other predators.
5. Ferrets: Female ferrets will die if they don’t mate. Ferrets have a very unique reproductive system, namely it includes induced ovulation. This basically means she will stay in heat or estrus until the physical act of mating is performed. When in heat, a female ferret will secrete high levels of estrogen and if this hormone stays in the blood for a prolonged period of time, it causes a progressive depression of bone marrow that results in a severe, life threatening aplastic anemia which is fatal to them. So it’s not like she needs to get pregnant, she simply needs the act of mating.
The physical act of mating induces ovulation in female ferrets that will bring them out of estrus. The ferret will then have a false pregnancy that will go full term, (about 40 to 45 days), but without the nasty side-effect called kids.(Read more in- Female Ferrets Will Die If They Don’t Mate)
6. Clownfish: Clownfish, also known as anenomefish, are sequential hermaphrodites and live in very regimented schools made up of all males and one female. The group is made up of a hierarchy with the female fish being the dominant and generally the largest fish in a given group. The second in command of the group is usually the largest male, who is also generally the most aggressive male of the group. This male will pair off with the female to breed. The rest of the males in the area will not breed with the female. Upon breeding, the female will lay sometimes thousands of eggs close to their home, usually on a rock or coral. The two will then take turns guarding the eggs until they hatch around a week later.
If the female dies, the dominate male will then begin to gain weight and will become the female of the group. It will then choose a breeding partner among the available males, which is usually the largest male available. The two will pair off and breed together until something happens to one or the other, at which point the cycle begins again. (Read More In –Clownfish are all born male, a dominant male with turn female when the current female of the group dies)
7. Hyenas: Females are the more dominant sex when it comes to hyenas. They outshine the males in more than one respect. They are bigger, stronger, more aggressive and even have penises, well sort of. Female hyenas have an enlarged clitoris that appears like a ‘pseudopenis’ (sometimes upto 7 inches long), which can even stand erect. It is believed that female hyenas developed these characteristics because their mothers give their cubs an extra boost of the male sex hormone- androgen to make them more aggressive and give them a fighting chance at survival.
The females pseudopenis, however, makes it rather awkward and tricky for male hyenas to position themselves to insert their penis into the female. It’s often described as comical to watch a male hop around as he squats behind her thrusting blindly to achieve intromission. What’s even worse is the thought that the female has to give birth through a penis, which in many cases has proven fatal for first time mothers.
8. Lobsters: Lobstersdon’t mate for life, contrary to popular belief. Not only do Lobsters not mate for life, but the male lobster pretty much gets it on with every female lobster that comes a knockin. With lobsters, the female seeks out the male. Occasionally, a line will even form outside the male’s little lobster home, with each female waiting her turn for some lobster lovin.
Male lobsters pretty much spend their time daily coming out of their little dens and boxing all the other male lobsters while the females watch. One male lobster will inevitably dominate the other male lobsters in the area. This male lobster will then get the privilege of mating with all the female lobsters in the area. Interestingly, lobsters seem to be able to keep track of where all the other lobsters in the area live. So all the female lobsters, when they are ready to mate, will go line up at the door of the dominate male in their region.
There’s only one problem; the male lobster has no interest in mating. He’d rather go out and fight some more with the other males. The females, however, have their ways to convince him maybe he’d rather be a lover not a fighter. First, when a mature female lobster is ready to molt, the female lobster will approach the dominant male’s den. She will then give off a pheromone and wafts it into his den. The male will then emerge from his den with claws raised ready to attack (he’s got a one track mind, but it’s not for sex). The female will then continue to piss on him from nozzles under her eyes (this is where the pheromone comes from). As he smells the pheromone in the female pee, he will become somewhat more docile and less interested in fighting temporarily. The female will then turn away submissively or more likely will respond by briefly fighting the male before giving up, letting him win. With her chosen partner’s ego sufficiently stroked and his body sufficiently pissed on, the female will place her claws on the male lobster’s head, caressing it. They will then go into his den. From this point, assuming the female lobster doesn’t have a headache, the female lobster will take off her clothes (no, really!); she sheds her hard outer layer making her extremely vulnerable.
The male lobster then either chooses to eat her or puts on some Marvin Gaye and gets to business. If he decides to go the Marvin Gaye route, he will gently turns her limp body over on to her back, being careful not to tear her very soft fleshy bits and will gently mate with her. After the deed is done, he’ll let her stay in his den for a week or so until her hard shell grows back. While she is without her shell and very vulnerable, he will protect her by doing what he does best, beating up all the other male lobsters in the area. Once her shell has grown back, he’s no longer attracted to her because she’s gained so much weight since they got together… and not pissing on him; so he kicks her out. At this point, the next lady lobster in line will take her turn with him.(Read More in- Lobsters Do Not Mate For Life)
9. Brown Antechinus: This little brown mouse-sized Australian marsupial lead an intense sex life. In fact, it’s so intense that it literally kills him. At the tender age of just 10 months, these small fellas enter their first mating season by trying to copulate with as many females as they can within the two-week period. He’s so focused on his task that he can go on for anywhere between 5 to 14 hour mating sessions with a single female, forgetting to sleep and eat in the process. Like the energizer bunny he keeps going with his one track mind to have as much sex as he can. Eventually however, he runs out of steam and the stress hormones lead him to a slow death caused by an immune system collapse, internal bleeding and parasitic infections. All the males die in a similar fashion before their first year, every mating season. New males are born from result of the mating and the cycle continues.
10. Snails: Like most mollusks, snails too are hermaphrodites (have both male and female reproductive organs). In the case of Helix aspersa a small garden snail found in California and South Americaand some other species of snails, they have come up with a unique way of solving the conundrum of who gets to stay male and who gets to be female by shooting each other with ‘love darts’. Before copulation they attempt to fire at each other with a calcified spike located on their neck, known as “gypsobelum”, which is coated in special mucus, into the others genital pore. The ‘love darts’ are fired when one snail touches the other’s genitals in their necks. Some researchers say that the calcium dart prevents the mate from digesting the usual amount of sperm. So if they happen to miss (which is surprisingly often), the snail without the love dart in them would subsequently digest more sperm when they both exchanged sperm, increasing the chance of motherhood. If they were both a bad shot, then there’s a higher chance they’d both get pregnant from the encounter.Expand for References
- Bowerbirds Dance, Decorate to Suit Females’ Changing Tastes
- Bowerbirds stick to mating ritual
- The Emperor’s Embrace
- Emperor Penguins
- Garter Snakes- Female Impersonators and Other Courtship Matters
- Social dynamics of group courtship behavior in male red-sided garter snakes
- How Spotted Hyenas Mate
- The Painful Realities of Hyena Sex
- Marsupial Mating Proves Promiscuity Pays
- Snail Dart
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