Don’t do it like the Discovery Channel

Photo by Robin Lawson

… I think it broke.

This goes through the minds of more species than you may think, but not because they’ve been responsible and brought condoms. No, some animals have some fairly disturbing mating rituals by our standards. Take for instance, certain species of orb spiders. The male copulates with little leg-like structures near its mouth. The female has a knob outside her genitalia shaped kind of like a bicycle seat- this is for the male to grab with his mouth, and give him some purchase to do the deed. After scientists carefully froze some spiders mid-coitus with liquid nitrogen, they were able to examine them under a microscope and determine that males occasionally rip these knobs off, to prevent other males from being able to mate with that female.

Everyone has a first time.

And for some animals, the first time is the only time. Semelparous species die after one reproductive episode, which could be a mating season or a single event. Biologists are still trying to find out why. Take for example, the Australian antechinus. The males of this little marsupial mammal species have sex until they die- after fur loss, internal bleeding, and getting gangrene because their immune system gives up. Why all the fuss? Researchers now believe it may be due to a spike in their food source, insects, which occurs once yearly. The females need a regular food source while raising their babies in their pouches, and so all the mating must happen in a very short window prior to bug season. Other semelparous animals include octopuses, eels, squid, salmon and mayflies!

Imma stay for cuddles.

Said every male angler fish, ever. Deep-sea angler fish experience sexual dimorphism, where the two sexes differ significantly in size. In this case, the female is up to ten times larger than the male, which is born without a digestive system. Mating consists of the recently-born male latching onto the first female he can find with his mouth, and then slowly fusing on, losing all of its organs except the testes, which remain and pump sperm into the female’s system when necessary. Female angler fish can have up to six of these parasitic mates for life.

My place?

Some animals’ mating habits are fairly straightforward, but some are complicated rituals involving lots of work and planning- usually by the males. Some creatures build structures to attract a mate. Take the bower bird for example. It builds a bower, shaped like a small hut and built of twigs, and decorates it with flowers, stones, feathers and even plastic and glass fragments. If the female likes it, the male wins a mate!

The red velvet mite builds a ‘love garden’ of sperm dispersed on twigs and leaves, with a silk trail leading to it. If a female finds it and likes what she sees, she’ll use the sperm. If a male finds it, he’ll wreak it to better his own chances.

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