Fascinating facts about mating in the animal kingdom
Reproduction is the common thread that unites all living things—the individual is doomed to die, but with reproduction, the species lives on. Everyone over a certain age knows how humans make babies, and for many animals, the process isn’t that much different. For many others, however, the process is, well, a process.
A handful of animals choose one partner for their entire lives. Many others are open to all takers. Some mate all year long, others are fertile only for a few hours. Some are highly selective and require one gender to perform elaborate rituals like dancing, strutting, and structure-building for the other gender to even give them a look. Others do it as frequently as possible with as many in their species as possible. More gruesomely, many animals murder after mating. Some others have to die in order to do it. Others do it literally until it kills them.
Monogamy exists in nature, albeit rarely, as do homosexuality, infidelity, and ferocious jealousy. As with people, many young males in the animal kingdom strut, preen, and otherwise try to impress females, often in vain. Also familiarly, females often choose males based on attributes like strength or the ability to provide resources.
There are, however, plenty of differences. Some species are highly social and structured like ours—but their societies are dominated completely by females. Other species have sexual traits of both genders. Others are born as one gender but can switch when needed.
Using sources like nature publications and research reports, Stacker compiled a list of 30 animal mating habits that defy the imagination. From the ocean floor and the frozen poles to the rainforest interior and parched desert, these animals continue their species in some of the most unusual ways.
Keep reading to learn about how the birds, bugs, lizards, monkeys, mice, spiders, and fish make more of themselves.
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Black widows love their mates to death
Thanks to its ominous appearance and brutally venomous bite, the black widow spider is one of the most feared creatures on Earth—but it’s especially scary to its mate. The species got its name because female black widows are known to kill and cannibalize their male lovers once the act is complete.
Flatworms engage in 'penis fencing'
Marine flatworms are hermaphroditic. When mating, they engage in a showdown that biologists call “penis fencing,” duking it out in an underwater sword fight. Whoever stabs and inseminates the other first wins, not only dodging a ghastly wound, but gaining all access to the inseminated eggs inside the other.
Female barklice have painful penises
The disgusting insect known as Neotrogla barklice is known for a biological switcheroo. Sperm-producing males evolved with vaginas and egg-producing females wound up with penises—spiked penises, at that. After aggressively seeking out male lovers, the female roughly inserts her barbed penis and doesn’t let go until she’s been inseminated multiple times.
Bonobos are sex-crazed close human relatives
Like the Neotrogla barklice, the endangered ape known as the bonobo tosses the concept of male supremacy out the window when mating. Sex dominates the social culture of bonobos, who have sex with both genders with incredible promiscuity—they do it to avoid violent aggression, as a form of currency, to make friends, and just to pass the time. Females are not monogamous by any means, and since they don’t discriminate, males have no way of knowing which baby bonobos are theirs and therefore aid in raising the entire nursery, a mating trait that has created a social structure dominated by the chimp equivalent of women.
Clownfish can change genders
Clownfish, known worldwide for “Finding Nemo” fame, are monogamous and are born male but can turn themselves female. A single dominant female leads a group of males, and if she dies, the biggest male switches genders and rules the school as a female. Males prepare nests and try to woo the female with an underwater dance, and if she goes for it and lays eggs, the male not only inseminates them, but does most of the egg-sitting until they hatch.
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For manakins, the female has her choice
In a kind of avian speed dating, female manakins venture into sex dens called leks, where they observe a multitude of males all vying for their attention through a mating ritual called lekking. Since food is plentiful, females don’t choose male mates based on their ability to provide resources, but instead, make their decision based on the awesomeness of their leks. When lekking, males put on elaborate and extended displays of acrobatics and nonverbal sounds—they’ve developed specialized feathers just for that purpose—which the female observes until one impresses her enough to choose him.
Albatross mate for life, but often stray
Only a tiny percentage of animals pair up with one mate for life. Among them are the albatross that wander at sea for extended periods and return to their mating grounds every other year to reconnect with their life partners. That bond, however, does not mean they’re monogamous. About 14%–24% of chicks are fathered by third-party albatross dudes.
Bedbug sex is quite unpleasant
As if bedbugs weren’t unlikeable enough, they up the repulsion ante through a mating ritual known as traumatic insemination. Males bypass their female counterparts’ perfectly functional reproductive tract and instead stab their daggerlike penises through the female’s abdomen in order to achieve insemination.
Shingleback lizards have only one true love
In the animal kingdom, monogamy rarely makes strategical sense, and only a tiny percentage of animals on the planet stick with one sexual partner for life. The shingleback lizard is among them. They spend most of the year living alone, but return to their monogamous partners in the fall between September and November.
Some octopi rely on disguises in order to copulate
The tiny octopus known as Abdopus aculeatus displays a unique behavior known as guarding, in which males pull sentry duty around mating dens where males and females copulate. Some males, however, slip past the guards by disguising themselves as females to get in on the action, which the true female will frequently let them do if the ruse works.
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