Mating in Nature is Wild: Photos
The Nature Conservancy
Finding a suitable mate might be easier with online dating, but unfortunately for most of the animal kingdom they don't have that option. Many animals in the natural world make ritualistic sounds or displays to attract a mate. The most bizarre mating rituals involve deception or dancing. Here, we take a look at some of the craziest and strangest of the animal kingdom's attempts to attract that special someone.
Dale Rehder, The Nature Conservancy
When it comes to attracting a mate, Attwater's Prairie Chickens throw quite the party. The mating ritual begins with loud "booming" noises that carry for miles. The male visits a clearing of grass called a "lek" (or booming ground) which are reused year after year. Once on the lek, the bird inflates large orange neck sacs and lets out an interesting "woo-la-woo" or "whur-ru-rrr" sound while rapidly stomping its feet.
To properly attract a mate, the Attwater Prairie Chicken not only completes a mating call, but adds a visual display by inflating their air sacs, pointing their tail, lowering their head, standing their neck feathers erect and frantically stamping their feet. Quite the strange display.
Sources: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Houston Zoo, The Nature Conservancy
Monogamy isn't unique to humans; the prairie vole keeps only one mate. Unlike many rodents, when a young prairie vole meets a stranger, the two don't attack each other.
Instead, if they are both sexually available, their instinct tells them their chance to find a mate may be now or never because the receptors in these voles' brains give the voles a intoxicating and permanent sense of pleasure from monogamy.
When two, unrelated sexually available voles meet, their brain chemistry instantly begins to alter causing a variety of complex chemical interactions.
At first, the chemicals cause a heightened level of attraction and passion and afterward a lower stress and eventually a feeling of safety and security. Simply put, the presence of two unmatched voles in the same place is so powerful they begin to regulate each others brain chemistry, altering it permanently.
Forty-eight hours after their first meeting, the two voles hit their peak and they mate. For 24 hours. Straight. After the mating, the voles are described to be "addicted to one another as junkies to smack," according to Hungarian researchers
Sources: Smithsonian National Zoo, The Nature Conservancy
The Nature Conservancy
It's not just the prairie animals that exhibit odd mating behavior. Freshwater mussels rely on other animals for their mating ritual. The mussels have no legs, so they're unable to make the moves in search of a mate. Instead, they release their zygotes into the water currents and let the cells do the searching for them.
Once a male mussel releases its sperm, the surrounding water currents carry it downstream, hopefully to a waiting female. The female sucks the sperm into eggs waiting on her gills.
Once the eggs are fertilized and mature, the female releases them, hopefully onto a nearby fish. If they're lucky, the eggs will attach and begin to grow and develop, living similarly to a parasite. Once they can survive on their own, the still- microscopic, but fully formed, mussels drop from the fish and begin a life on the river-bottom far away from their parents.
Sometimes, to lure fish, the females will wave appendages that look like worms or crayfish or even emit a smell of rotting flesh to attract scavenger fish. Those crafty mussels!
Sources: Virginia Dept of Game and Inland Fisheries, The Nature Conservancy
Brett Cortesi, Roger Barbou
Back above the water, but still small, the American Burying Beetle is monogamous and also participates in a parental relationship with the young.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service puts it this way: "It is a warm, midsummer night. Two creatures find a small, dead animal and begin to bury it underground by gradually excavating soil out from under it. Once in the underground chamber, the creatures strip the fur or feathers from the carcass, roll it into a ball, and coat it with secretions, preserving it in a semi-mummified state. They mate. Later, the carcass will be food for the entire family."
While it sounds simple, it's not always the case. The male beetles must fight for the carcass and attract a mate at the same time. Usually the largest male and female beetles win the carcass and then move it like a conveyor belt, laying on their back and shifting it with their legs.
In this way, the two beetles can move material 200 times their own weight. Once they've buried their romantic prize and mate, they later go on to tend to up to 30 young in a brood.
Before you begin to feel inadequate, know the spend only a week feeding off the carcass before they crawl into the soil to finish their development, emerging fully mature a month or two later.
Sources: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy
Ian Burt used under Creative Commons
Much larger than the beetles, the 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. Once the pad has attracted a mate, the bower dances, chirps and displays its feathers.
Unlike some American bachelor pads you might picture, the bowers take good care of their mating areas, painting the walls with chewed berries or others building lawns of moss.
Conscious to the trends in their area, the birds choose a color scheme based on the light in their region. In areas with foggy ridge tops, the bowers use predominantly black decorations, while closely related species displaying on more sunlit slopes use a variety of decorations with a wide array of bright colors.
Similar to human over-compensation, the more dull the color of the male's feathers, the flashier the pad.
Sources: Prof Gerald Bordia, Dept of Biology UMD, The Nature Conservancy
The Nature Conservancy
Mating rituals are not unique to the smaller animals in the animal kingdom. The mighty lions also have their own traditions. Male lions grow large, dark manes to attract females.
According to Smithsonian Magazine, "A mane, it seems, signals vital information about a male’s fighting ability and health to mates and rivals." The darker the mane the better the mate. They add that this discovery prompted stories across the globe with headlines like, "Manely, lady lions look for dark color," or "Blonds have less fun in the lion world."
When lions finally do mate, the affair is over in about 20 seconds. Before you scoff at the performance of the king of beasts, know that the male lion will repeat the effort up to 40 times in a single day -- about every 20 minutes or so -- continuing for three to seven days straight. During the mating, both lions neglect to hunt, or even eat at all.
Sources: Smithsonian Magazine, The Nature Conservancy