The animal kingdom is full of sweet, thoughtful and just plain strange mating rituals. Whether it be the inept flirtation of frat boys or the sweet serenades of sharpshooter insects, Valentine's Day is full of surprises.
One of the most common displays of attraction in the animal world is dance and song. The red-capped manakin is a small, stout bird that lives in tropical regions of Latin America. These birds have a distinct move they use to attract females: the moon walk. The better the dance, the more likely a male will attract a mate. Some species even form boy band-esque groups to sing and dance in coordination.
However, you don’t need feathers to be a proficient dancer. Mudskippers, a species of amphibious fish, crawl onto muddy shores to perform for their potential partners. Male mudskippers will twirl, arch, spin and engage in impressive aerial leaps. If a female is interested, she’ll follow him back to his muddy burrow.
If aerial acrobatics aren’t your style, the calm courtship of the weedy seadragon may be more your speed. Male and female seadragon swim side by side in a calm, slow dance, generally in the spring.
While chocolate, candy and jewelry are traditional Valentine’s gifts in the human world, the animal world has its own gift giving traditions. Many species of birds bring their partners gifts or build them a nest as a part of their courtship rituals, one of the most captivating displays coming from bowerbirds. There are 27 species of bowerbird, and they are most commonly found in the tropics of Australia and New Guinea. Male bowerbirds are feathery architects, utilizing natural and manmade objects to attract females. Satin bowerbirds, for example, are particularly drawn to the color blue. Male satin bowerbirds will use shiny pieces of blue plastic, children's toys, trash and even hair ties to construct their nests. These intricate nests are the result of seven years of practice, wherein young males show off to other males and gang up to steal trinkets from others nests.
Instead of diamonds, Gentoo penguins propose with smooth, flat pebbles. These medium-sized penguins live on rocky beaches and low cliffs in the Antarctic Peninsula, often congregating in large groups. When a male penguin wants to build a nest with a female penguin, he will search the rocky beaches for the smoothest, flattest pebble he can find. If his intended likes his offering, they will build a pebble nest together and eventually start a family of their own. Pebble envy, however, is a common problem, and members of both sexes will turn to pebble robbery if a stone catches their eye.
Most of us, however, would probably prefer chocolate over a marriage proposal for our first date. Many members of the insect world would agree with that sentiment. Nuptial gifts are common among insects, ranging from prey items and seeds to nest building materials and protective poison. Male scorpionflies (which are neither scorpions nor flys) provide females with a dead insect prior to copulation. This insect is often stolen from the webs of spiders, and gives the female both an important source of nutrients and something to snack on during copulation.
For praying mantises, however, the males themselves serve as a nuptial gift. After a relaxing first date consisting of a violent wrestling match for dominance, females will engage in sexual cannibalism during copulation. The male is eaten – head first – as a tasty snack and nourishment for their future children. Praying mantis’ habits are among the many macabre mating traditions of the natural world.
We’ve all experienced a friend or partner who’s a little too clingy, but angler fish take clinginess to the next level. While female anglerfish are known for their large teeth, huge mouth and characteristic lure, male anglerfish are much less intimidating. Males can be up to 60 times smaller than females and spend most of their time searching for a mate.
When they do find the lucky lady, male anglerfish bite the female. This may result in a one-night stand or the female anglerfish may find herself with the ultimate live-in boyfriend. In this situation, the male anglerfish melts itself into the female, permanently attaching himself.
Eventually, he will lose his mouth, eyes and all his external organs — except for the testes. But why go through such extremes to catch a mate? In the deep dark sea, it’s hard to find a mate. Some male angler fish will go their entire lives without seeing another female. So, when they find their gigantic, predaceous and terrifying true love, they know to hold on tight.