From Jaws of Death to Love Darts, These 7 Animals Mate in Unusual Ways

Posted on Categories Discover Magazine

Like humans, animals will do whatever it takes to win over that special someone. But for them, courtship isn’t about flowers, walks in the park, meticulously crafted texts, or suggestive emojis.

The bestial prelude to love comes in many (weird, wild, even mildly horrifying) forms. From projectile poop to male-female fusion to “love darts,” here are some of the most intriguing sexual behaviors in the animal kingdom. 

Read More: 5 Animals That Mate for Life

1. Giraffes and Urinating

(Credit: Martin Novak/Shutterstock)

Certain animals, like male Capuchin monkeys, use their urine to attract potential mates. By urine washing — peeing on their hands and rubbing it on their bodies — they release pheromones that can be irresistible to a mate. How romantic does that sound? However, there’s a little role reversal when it comes to giraffes. 

Because female giraffes show no external sign of estrus, there’s only one way for males to tell when they’re fertile, and it’s not by sniffing her fur. That’s right: Bring on the golden showers. He prods her until she widens her hind legs and urinates directly into his mouth, allowing him to detect pheromones that signal sexual receptivity. Sure, he could just sniff it off the ground like all the other mammals, but let’s not kink-shame.

2. Hippopotamus Dung Showering

(Credit: Suli Artha/Shutterstock)

If you thought that was bad, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Giraffes at least keep the water sports to themselves; their slovenly, muck-loving neighbors, on the other hand, spread the excrement far and wide.

When a male’s in the mood, he draws his preferred female’s attention by — there’s no charming way to put it — whirling his tail as he poops to fling as much of it as possible in her direction (not to mention everywhere else). This behavior, called “dung showering,” may sound more repulsive than arousing, but females are into it. If the suitor is to their liking, they even reciprocate.

Hippos are also extremely aggressive when it comes to mating. Typically, only the most dominant bulls, capable of defending their territory against challengers, get a chance to reproduce. Pat Benatar was onto something — for many animals, love truly is a battlefield.

3. Clownfish Reproduction

(Credit: Oksana Golubeva/Shutter

Most vertebrates are born and live all their life with a single biological sex. Then, there are hermaphrodites, which have both male and female reproductive organs. And then there are clownfish.

These gender-bending creatures are sequential hermaphrodites: They’re all born male and only later in life do some transition to female. This is relatively common in the realm of fish. But in most cases, the process depends solely on size — every individual that grows large enough makes the leap from male to female.

Read More: Sex, Interrupted: How Humans Are Disturbing Animal Reproduction

For clownfish, however, sex change is a social matter. Their anemone-based communities consist of two large, sexually mature fish and many smaller fish that don’t reproduce. When the female dies, her male partner transitions and the next largest fish ascends the hierarchy. It’s hard to believe this didn’t make the cut in “Finding Nemo.”

4. Anglerfish Fuse Their Bodies

(Credit: Neil Bromhall/Shutterstock)

It’s only fitting that the most nightmarish resident of the deep sea has a uniquely disturbing take on dating. Males, often described as the world’s clingiest boyfriends, latch onto their chosen female and never let go — literally.

Anglerfish are sexually dimorphic, the male being a fraction of the size of his mate. He roams the dark abyss until he finds an eligible bachelorette, then sinks his teeth into her to start the lifelong process of copulation. To use an even less romantic term, he becomes a “sexual parasite.”

Their bodies begin to fuse. Since his mouth is permanently closed, he thenceforward draws all nutrition from her blood. In fact, he more or less ceases to exist as a separate entity, becoming, as one early researcher put it, “merely an appendage of the female.” Moral of the story: Don’t take healthy relationship cues from sea monsters.

5. Redback Spider and the Complicit Cannibal

(Credit: Chris Watson/Shutterstock)

The appetite of female spiders is common knowledge by now. Since they’re usually much larger than males, they’ll often turn their partners into post-coital snacks. Males of many species have found ways to escape this fate, but one species, based on some twisted arachnid logic, surrenders willingly.

The redback spider (not to be confused with the black widow) is a “complicit cannibal.” That is, once he and his lady friend have finished the deed, he allows himself to be eaten. And he doesn’t just sit around passively, waiting for the fangs to strike — he somersaults right onto the female’s mandibles.

One hypothesis is that this self-destructive behavior, by nourishing the mother of his children, could simply be the optimal evolutionary strategy. He’s likely going to die before he gets another chance to mate anyway, so why not make that death an investment in the survival of his genes? It may seem like a big gamble for an uncertain payoff, but studies have shown that cannibalized males do indeed father more offspring.

Read More: Sexual Cannibalism: Why Females Sometimes Eat Their Mates After Sex

6. Bowerbirds Breed in Style

(Credit:Luke Shelley/Shutterstock)

After that detour through the innermost circle of hell, let’s shift to a kind of love humans can understand. The male bowerbird follows the same principle as many men: Show off in every possible way.

During the breeding season, he spends weeks building a structure of sticks in the style of either a maypole or two standalone vertical walls. This is his bower. Around it, he carefully curates an arrangement of brightly colored objects — shells, flowers, berries, even bits of trash.

When a female visits this den of seduction, he puts on a mesmerizing performance. The details vary from species to species. Some rapidly shrink and expand their pupils; some flutter their wings rhythmically, and others strut about with an especially attractive item in their beaks. Research suggests that males even improvise, tailoring their show to the female’s taste — finally, a proper Romeo.

7. Snail Love Darts

(Credit: AFPics/Shutterstock)

Cupid and his arrows of infatuation may be purely mythological, but they actually have a real-life counterpart — in the mollusk world, of all places. Several species of hermaphroditic land snails stab each other with “love darts,” which deliver hormones that improve reproductive success, like a booster for sperm.

This is an excellent strategy for promiscuous snails trying to mate with multiple partners, but for the recipients, it’s less than helpful. A 2015 study found that their lifespans are shorter (six weeks as opposed to the norm of eight) and tend to lay fewer eggs. Nevertheless, snails are proliferating, and to those whose darts are keeping the race alive, mollusk researcher Tim Pearce says, “A jab well done!”

Read More: Do Animals Fall in Love?

Leave a Reply