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How to Score a Mate

December 24, 2008

In the animal kingdom, successful reproduction is kind of the point of, well, everything. And, since most species need a mate to reproduce, an animal’s ability to find a mate can determine whether its life is a success or a total failure. Of course, animals use very different tactics to find a mate—from the flirtatious to the disgusting, none of which should be attempted by humans.

There’s the show-off:

To get a lady-manakin’s attention, the male red-capped manakin (a South American bird) creates a high-pitched chirping noise by batting his wings really quickly—faster than a hummingbird, in fact. Then, he does the moonwalk. For real. (Check it out here.)

…the flashy bachelor:

To attract females, male bowerbirds build a bower on the forest floor. A bower isn’t a nest for raising chicks—it’s the ultimate bachelor pad, decked out with lots of pretty things to impress the ladies. Each bower is unique. Males collect—or steal—shells, leaves, feathers, stones and pieces of trash to decorate their bowers. Some collect chunks of moss to create “lawns,” others paint the walls of their bowers with charcoal or chewed berries and some males really like shiny things so they disco ball-ify their bowers with coins, spoons and pieces of aluminum foil. The male spends hours arranging his bling until everything looks just right. (If a scientist moves an object while the male is away, he will put it back in its place as soon as he returns.) 

If the male is lucky, a female bowerbird will stop by to check out his digs. While she inspects the property, the male struts and sings. If the female likes what she sees, she’ll enter the bower. If not, she skedaddles and the male is left to wait and hope that another lady bowerbird will come along.

…the impatient thug:

The male Galapagos giant tortoise takes more of a go-getter approach than those flirtatious birds. He stretches his neck out and bobs his head and bellows to get the attention of a potential lady friend. Once he’s “captivated” her, he rams her shell and nips her legs until she draws them into her shell. As soon as she’s immobile—she can’t go anywhere with her legs tucked up inside her shell—he mounts her.

…and then there are the creatively disgusting critters:

Male giraffes know what they want—a female in estrus—and they know how to find it—using a highly-evolved (totally sarcastic) technique called the flehmen sequence. Basically, the male approaches the female and nudges her rump, which, in giraffe lingo, means “please pee.” If the female wants to pee, she pees and the male catches some in his mouth and tastes it. If the female’s pee meets the male’s standards (and it tastes like she’s in estrus), the male will follow her around. He’ll stalk her for a few hours or days—until she finally lets him hump her or until a more dominant male comes along and catches her eye…err pee.

Disgustingly enough, giraffes aren’t the only animals with a thing for urine. When a male porcupine comes across a female porcupine who might be into him, he pees on her. It’s a little more intricate than that. The male faces the female and rears up on his hind legs. If the female isn’t ready—female porcupines are only sexually receptive 8 to 12 hours a year—she runs away. If the female is interested, she’ll stand on her hind legs and face the male. And then the male douses her with a spray of urine that can reach more than six feet. If the female decides that she’s not into this whole pee thing, she’ll scream, shake off the urine and run away, smack him with a front paw or try to bite him. If she’s game, they mate.


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