A human woman might be wooed with flowers or a box of chocolates, but she likely wouldn’t look too kindly on a date showing up at the door with a basket of shiny glass bits or a giant, inflated red nose. She’d probably be even less into being peed on, or a date asking her to pee in his mouth so he can taste if she’s in heat. But in the animal kingdom, certain creatures would find these behaviors irresistible! Here are 41 of the most bizarre and fascinating facts about animal courtship and mating.
41. She’s Gotta Have It!
Female ferrets ovulate 30-40 hours after copulation, and if they don’t copulate, oestrus (what we call “being in heat”) can last for the rest of the breeding season. Their estrogen levels will rise, which can cause anemia, hemorrhage, and even death. If females don’t mate once a year, they can literally die!
40. Love Chain
Sea hares—a type of hermaphroditic sea slug—are the ’70s swingers of the sea. When mating, they flock together in groups and form chains of animals all engaged in coitus. Each sea hare has both male and female genitals—the sea hare in front of the chain functions solely as a female, while the sea hare behind her functions as a male, but that one functions as a female to the sea hare behind it, and so on. These chains of male/female sea hare chains can mate for hours and yield millions of eggs.
39. Size Matters
Barnacles may be puny, but they have the longest penises in relation to their body size of any creature found in nature—the inflatable barnacle penis can be up to eight times the length of the animal’s body. While barnacles are technically hermaphroditic, they need to find a partner to reproduce, and they tend to act specifically as either male or female. They live in shells permanently glued to rocks or boat hulls, so instead of venturing out into dangerous waters they send only their reproductive organs. A “male” barnacle can detect a nearby “female” and send out his stretchy penis to do the job while he himself stays put.
Long-tailed manakins may be the only wingmen in nature who actually have wings: The young males have a lot to learn when it comes to courtship, and they aren’t afraid to look to older birds to teach them. The males form seven-year master-apprentice relationships, with the older birds teaching the younger ones the ways of love as well as other things like how to forage for food. During that time, the two birds practice a meticulously complex synchronized dance routine to woo females. When they encounter a female, they perform their routine for her, and if they do a good enough job, the master bird will mate with the female. The apprentice bird on the other hand may have to wait until his master dies before he’ll have a chance to grow into the role.
37. All Creatures Great and Small
You’d think the bigger the animal, the bigger the, uh, equipment, but you might be wrong. Body size has less to do with the size of genitalia than mating behavior does. Gorillas, for instance, are huge, but their monogamous behavior means that from an evolutionary standpoint, their genitals can be very small (and they are—a gorilla’s penis is only 1.5 inches long). And though an elephant is many, many times larger than a mouse, mouse sperm is actually larger than elephant sperm. The long reproductive tract of a mouse means the swimmers have to be stronger.
36. He’s My Albatross
In literature, you might hear the albatross’s name invoked to connote an obligation or a curse, but romance writers should start referring to the albatross when they want to talk about romantic courtship. An albatross takes its time—they can be up to 10 years old when they reach maturity. Young birds have to watch their elders and learn how to pitch woo because their elaborate rituals involve preening, gazing at one another, beak clacking, dancing, and vocalizing—not unlike human romance (except the beak clacking of course). They can start off courting many birds, but will narrow the pool down until they’ve found their one true love, and stay monogamous for the rest of their lives. Both male and female raise their chicks together, and the happy couple will develop their own language comprised of bits of their mating ritual. Sounds so sweet, but I’m sure it seems just a little bit obnoxious to their bird friends who haven’t found true love yet.
35. Big Nose
Hooded seals have a special way of demonstrating their manliness to other males, and to prospective mates: To catch the eye of a female, a male will blow up a large, red, balloon-like hood on his nose and start bouncing it around. Hooded seals live on Arctic ice, and while the males are big and strong—they can grow to 8.5 feet long and weigh 900 lbs—the amount of energy they would expend fighting with other males might not be worth it in an environment where it can be a challenge to find food and stay warm. Thus—or so scientists think—the hoods evolved as a way to demonstrate their dominance without having to burn those extra calories. Best to save the energy for mating.
34. Into The Fire
Most creatures might have an instinct to flee from a fire, but charcoal beetles do the opposite. The beetles use special infrared sensors to detect fires from up to 130 kilometers away. They fly into sometimes still-burning forests to lay their eggs in the stumps of freshly-burned trees. The fires destroy the natural chemical defenses of the trees, making the wood an easy meal for beetle larvae, who have a better chance at survival in the forests now devoid of predators.
33. Maybe They’ve Seen The Notebook
The love stories of shingleback lizards are extremely sweet. The lizards only ever have one mate, remaining faithful to one another for their entire lives. They hibernate separately but seek each other out when it’s warm enough. Their bond is so strong that even after death shinglebacks will stay with the body of their deceased lover for days, nudging their body in what looks to be grief.
32. Til Death Do U Part
The male antechinus, a small, mouse-like marsupial that lives in Australia, has so much sex that he disintegrates. During mating season, males mate with as many females as they possibly can in marathon lovemaking sessions that can last up to 14 hours. The little guys mate until their fur falls off and they begin bleeding internally. The males die after a single mating season, less than a year after they’re born.
31. Thornier Than A Rose
When their mates are covered in thousands of sharp, pointy quills, it’s no wonder that female porcupines aren’t aways in the mood. In fact, female porcupines are only fertile for 8 to 12 hours per year. While porcupines live solitary lives, females emit hormones when they’re ready to mate, signalling males to approach her. Once a male arrives, his big move is to rear up on his hind legs, walk towards the female with a fully erect penis and blast her with a spray of urine that can shoot as far as six feet. We’re not exactly sure why he does this—it certainly doesn’t seem that sexy—but sometimes the move works, and the female then raises her tail and allows him to mate with her. Around 210 days after successful mating, porcupines give birth to babies adorably called porcupettes.
30. One Hell Of A Hello
Bonobos, close relatives of the chimpanzee, are highly evolved, complex creatures with complicated socio-sexual behaviors. Bonobos don’t just engage in mating behavior to produce offspring—they use sex as a way to form close social bonds, and will engage in sex for conflict resolution or post-conflict reconciliation. Bonobos also enjoy french kissing, and sometimes they will engage in sex as a greeting. What a way to say hello!
29. Playing Hard To Get
Female Tasmanian devils like to play hard to get. They’ll only mate with a male once he’s shown his dominance—males drag females to their dens, where they bite, scratch, and push the female into submission. If a male is too inexperienced or too timid, a female might just stand up in the middle of copulation and walk away. After mating, the jealous males then stand guard over females, but occasionally they’ll fall into a deep, post-coital slumber, at which point the female will sneak away to go find other males to mate with, hedging her bets with multiple partners to ensure some of her offspring will be strong enough to survive.
28. Together Forever
Some animals mate for life, but anglerfish take it to a whole new level. When you picture an anglerfish, you’re probably picturing a female—the males are many times smaller and lack the fearsome teeth and lure. The male anglerfish’s sole purpose in life is to find a female, which is easier said than done in the depths of the ocean, but they have a special sensory organ to help them in their search. Once he finds a partner, he’ll bite her body until he latches on and over time will physically fuse himself to her, connecting to her skin and bloodstream. His body disintegrates, including his eyes and internal organs—all except his testes. Females can carry six or more males within their bodies, little portable sacks of sperm so she can fertilize her eggs when she needs to without worrying about finding a mate when it’s time. Talk about being joined at the hip.
27. Cruel Seduction
Male dolphins sometimes resort to cruel and unusual punishment to force females to mate with them. Groups of young males will gang up to separate a female from her group, then will bite, slap, and slam into her with their bodies. Sometimes they’ll even deny the female food until she acquiesces to their advances and allows them to mate with her.
26. World’s Largest Orgy
When garter snakes emerge from hibernation each spring, they’re in the mood to get together. Females release hormones that attract males by the thousands, and we mean thousands—the Narcisse Snake Pits in Manitoba, Canada can see writhing balls of as many as 75,000 mating snakes. The snakes group together in such large numbers to quickly raise their body temperature after the long winter.
25. Sneaky Cuddles
Another sneaky trick of the animal kingdom: certain male garter snakes will secrete female-type hormones to interest other males. The impostor males do this in the first day or two after they emerge from hibernation, which causes other males to swarm over them in a writhing snake snuggle. This has two benefits: they can lure the other males away from females, and the body heat helps warm them up.
24. Population Control
Many insects mate only once in their lives, so scientists are searching for ways to use insect mating habits as a way to control populations. They’ve found that engineering and releasing sterile male mosquitoes causes a massive decline in populations, as the females will mate and then die without ever having babies. This strategy is being developed as a new way to control the spread of mosquito-born diseases like West Nile, malaria and zika.
23. Chivalry Isn’t Dead
In Medieval times, two romantic rivals might have engaged in a fencing match to win the heart of their beloved. Some species of flatworm are also into fencing—two “males” use bifurcated penises to fence with each other to win a romantic duel, but they don’t do it to impress a female—flatworms are hermaphroditic, possessing both female and male genitals. The loser of the duel “becomes” female and allows the winner to mate with her.
22. Sole Purpose
Luna Moths needn’t resort to starving their mates into submission—they’ll starve anyway! After the larvae metamorphose into adults, they emerge with genitalia but no mouths! Their sole purpose as adults is to mate; they are unable to eat and die of starvation.
21. Tickle, Tickle
Painted turtles are a bit coy when it comes to romance. During courtship, males use their long front claws to tickle and stroke the heads of females. If the female is into it, she’ll sink to the bottom of the pond where the pair can mate in private.
20. Beautiful Mandalas
Japanese puffer fish flap their fins in elaborate undersea dances to attract females, creating undersea “crop circles” with intricate patterns. The fish are only 5 inches long, but their circular decorations can be up to 7 feet in diameter. The females inspect these formations, and if they like what they see, will lay their eggs at the center of the circles. The females then take off, leaving the males to fertilize and care for the eggs.
19. Sounds Nice
Female millipedes often curl up into defensive balls when males try to mate, interpreting the mating behavior as a threat. To soften up the females, males warm the females up with sweet serenades and relaxing back rubs. A male walks on the back of the female, massaging her with hundreds of feet, and some males produce a sound to calm his mate. Who could resist that?
18. Hard To Love
Pandas are endangered largely because of threats to their habitat, but their mating habits don’t make it easy to replenish panda populations. The females are only interested in sex for 24-72 hours yearly. Panda females are also quite picky, and zoos often have difficulty mating females with males who just don’t seem to know what they’re doing when it comes to sex. A zoo in Thailand resorted to showing males panda pornography—videos depicting panda mating—in an effort to instruct and arouse their pandas.
17. Not Always So Slow
Shrieking at a human male might not be the best way to win his heart, but it works if you’re a sloth. Female sloths emit loud screams when they’re in heat, which attracts any nearby males. While sloths may be known for their slowness, the one time they’re not slow is in the bedroom: the whole sloth mating routine—including foreplay and copulation—takes only five seconds.
16. Prolific Lovers
Snow leopards only find one partner during mating season to maximize their time together. During this time, snow leopard couples typically mate 12 to 36 times per day.
15. Girl’s World
How do male Whiptail lizards entice their mates? They don’t—they don’t even exist. All the lizards of this truly amazing species are female. Pairs of female whiptails come together in a mating ritual, stimulating each other to lay eggs, but they don’t actually mate. Each lizard lays eggs and produces young that are genetically identical—effectively clones—of their respective mothers.
14. An Alternative To Flowers
Male bowerbirds know that the females of their species are attracted to flashy displays of wealth. Males spend hours collecting and arranging displays of brightly-colored objects to impress potential mates. They fill their bowers with stones, flowers, leaves, shells, and man-made items like coins, rifle shells, plastic bits and pieces of glass. Females, who want to know their male will be a good provider, will visit several bowers and then mate with the male whose collection impresses them the most.
Female ducks have developed elaborate countermeasures to prevent themselves from being impregnated by unwanted males: Their vaginas have evolved into long, complex mazes with twisting tunnels and dead ends. Some even spiral clockwise, in the opposite direction of the counter-clockwise corkscrew duck penises.
12. The Worst Singles Mixer Ever
Honeybee colonies only have one mating female—the Queen—but there’s a lot of competition between males. Honeybee sex takes place in mid-air, while the queen flies around in search of mates. Drones swarm around her looking for a chance to get lucky, but little do they know that in the process of mating, their penises will literally break off. The explosive force of ejaculation causes his penis to burst, and it’s left behind in the queen. The males die after mating and the queen continues on her hunt leaving a trail of dead males in her wake.
11. Neck And Neck
Adults often fret about the mating habits of human teens—kissing or “necking,” ideally in a cozy basement or at a drive-in movie. Giraffe males also engage in a behavior called “necking,” but it’s’ a little different: The males will swing or bash their necks into each other to establish dominance. Sometimes these can be brutal contests, though sometimes it also just means rubbing necks together until one gets tired and gives up. Given that giraffe necks can be 6 ft long, two necking male giraffes definitely make for an impressive sight.
10. Golden Showers
After a male giraffe has bested his competitors, it’s time for him to give the female some attention. Males will head-butt or press against a female’s bladder, causing her to urinate in his mouth. He can taste hormones in her urine that tell him if she’s ovulating and ready to mate. If she’s ready, it’s time for love.
9. Gender Reversal
Male seahorses definitely know how to romance a lady. During courtship, couples will come together each morning and dance with each other, entwining their tails and changing color as they move in unison. Males are so comfortable in their seahorse masculinity that they reverse gender roles entirely. The female uses a penis-like organ called an ovipositor to transfer her eggs into a pouch on the male. He then becomes “pregnant” and carries their young until the baby seahorses are ready to be born.
Might often makes right in the animal kingdom, but weaker male cuttlefish use brains over brawn. Sneaky males use chromatophores (cells that can change color) in their skin to disguise themselves as females. They can then sidle up to an unsuspecting female and mate with her while other, stronger males battle it out amongst themselves over mating rights.
7. False Alarm
Crows are increasingly being recognized by science for their intelligence. They use tools to catch insects and can even recognize individual human faces. Crows are even smart enough to outwit each other: Female crows will sometimes emit a call signaling alarm that makes their mates go to investigate the threat. The females will then sneakily mate with male crows from neighboring territories while their males are gone, then pretend to innocently sit on their nest when their mates return.
6. Rosy Glow
We really hate to tell you this, but there may be thousands of tiny arachnids having sex all over your face. Tiny mites that live in the pores of our facial skin crawl around and mate with each other in the dark. What’s more, the feces that these little mites leave behind may be the cause of a skin disease called rosacea, which shows up as a pinkish, rosy rash.
Gray whales mate in threes. While a male is mating with a female, a wingman-whale will prop his friend up or hold the female in place so she doesn’t float away. They’ll then take turns mating with the female. This sort of cooperating between males is rare in the animal kingdom, where they usually engage in violent competition for mating rights.
4. Projectile Penises
Male Muscovy ducks keep their penises inside-out within their bodies, but in mating season the penis explodes outwards into a 20-cm long corkscrew-shaped sexual weapon, covered in ridges, backward-pointing spines, and barbs. Groups of males will gang up to violently force copulation on female ducks, who are often left injured or sometimes are even killed.
A lot of animal mating behavior can sound a bit unpleasant, but eagle displays sound truly terrifying: Males and females will fly thousands of feet up into the air, then lock talons and begin plummeting to the ground. They rapidly spiral in a total free fall, only separating at the last possible moment. A little danger puts them in the mood I guess?
2. Sex Sells
Beer ads are known for using sexy, bikini-clad babes to appeal to male consumers. In the 1980s, Australian beer-maker Emu Ale found the design of their bottles was attracting a different, and unwanted, sort of male attention. Tiny glass bumps on the bottom of their beer bottles were almost identical to those found on female jewel beetles, and when the bottles were discarded on the ground, male jewel beetles would flock to the refuse looking to mate. When the beer company learned their bottles were seriously affecting the beetle populations, leaving dead males who had used up their mating energy without producing further generations, they changed the bottles to smooth glass, solving the problem.
1. Traumatic Insemination
Nobody wants to think about insect sex, but I think no one wants to think about it less than female bedbugs—they’ve got it pretty bad. Female bedbugs don’t exactly have vaginas, so the males stab them in the abdomen with sharp penis-like appendages and inject sperm into their bodies through the wound. This is just as horrible for the females as it sounds, and they often die as a result.