Ah, sex. Birds do it, bees do it. Wait a minute! How exactly do they do it? The mating rituals of some animals are wonderfully bizarre. For example: did you know that some insects' genitals explode during sex? Or that some fish can change gender?
Intrigued? Read on for 30 of the most bizarre animal mating habits.
Honey Bee: Exploding Testicles.
The reproductive cycle of bees is fascinating - and complex. But here's the short story: a queen is selectively bred in a special "queen cell" in the hive and fed royal jelly by worker bees to induce her to become sexually mature.
A virgin queen that survives to adulthood without being killed by her rivals will take a mating flight with a dozen or so male drones (out of tens of thousands eligible bachelors in the colony). But don't call these drones lucky because during mating, their genitals explode and snap off inside the queen!
Strange as it is, this actually makes evolutionary sense: the snapped-off penis acts as a genital plug to prevent other drones from fertilizing the queen. But tell that to the dead drone whose penis just exploded.
[Note: this strategy is so successful that it is apparently employed by other species of animals, such as the male wasp spider]
(Image Credit: Veebl [Flickr])
Bonobo: Make Love Not War
Who said that violence is the only way to solve fights over food or territory? Instead of fighting, bonobos [wiki] have sex! Actually, their whole societal structure seems to revolve around sex.
Bonobos use sex as greetings, a mean of solving disputes, making up for fights, and as a favors in exchange for food. They tongue kiss, engage in oral sex, mutual masturbations, have face-to-face genital sex and even have a strange "penis fencing" ritual!
In their 1996 book titled Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence, Richard Wrangham and Dale Peterson wrote:
Flatworm: Make Love AND War.
If bonobos "penis fence" as foreplay, flatworms do it for real.
For flatworms, sex is more like war than love. Like all sea slugs, flatworms are hermaphrodites (they have both male and female sexual organs). In this case, the male organ turns out to be two dagger-like penises that they use to hunt as well as mate. During mating, two flatworms fight (i.e. "penis fence") to stab each other, while avoiding getting stabed.
The "loser" who gets stabbed will absorb the sperm through its skin and then scoots off to bear the burden of motherhood! (Source, with a cool video you shouldn't miss.)
Frigatebird: Fanciful Big Red Balloon.
Those fanciful male peacocks have nothing on frigatebirds! A male frigatebird has a throat sac that it can inflate with hard work - it takes over a period of twenty minutes - into a giant red, heart-shaped balloon. He then waggles his head from side to side, shakes his wings and calls the females to check him out.
A female frigatebird will mate with the male with the biggest and shiniest balloon. During sex, the male bird will sweetly put his wings over her eyes to make sure she doesn't get distracted by other males with even nicer balloons! (Source)
Red-Sided Garter Snake: An Annual Mating Ball Orgy
Strange Fact 1. The annual mating of red-sided garter snakes is a tourist attraction in Manitoba, Canada. That's because when a female garter snake emerges from hibernation, she releases a pheromone that attracts hundreds of male snakes in the vicinity to rush her and create a large squirming "mating ball."
Strange Fact 2. Like many snakes, the male garter snake has two penises, called "hemipenes," on each side of its body. The male will try to use the best-positioned penis to mate with the female in the center of the mating ball.
Strange Fact 3. As if the two facts above aren't strange enough, turns out there is a "she-male" snake who releases pheromones just like the females do (and fools hundreds of other males to pile up on him/her). Why? Scientists think that this gives the she-male warmth and protection (and attention, too, I'm sure). (Source)
Bonus: From Current Science:
Hyena: The Females Got Balls!
Female hyenas wear the pants in the family. They're bigger and stronger than the males. And definitely much more aggressive. Heck, they even got balls. Really.
A female hyena has a pseudopenis, basically an enlarged clitoris, that they can erect at will. To mate, the meeker male has to insert his penis into her pseudopenis. That's difficult for the males, but still nothing compared to the female having to give birth through a penis!
Biologist Laurence Frank describes something else that is strange about hyenas - the way they say hello to each other:
Manakin: Moonwalking to Impress the Ladies
There's dancing and there's dancing - like the moonwalk that the male Manakin does to impress the ladies! Michael Jackson has nothing on them manakins!
Giraffe: Not in Estrus? No Thanks!
With that ridiculously long neck of theirs, mating is hard work for male giraffes. So, when a male happens upon a female giraffe, he will perform a procedure known as the "fleshmen sequence" to see if she is in estrus. First, he nudges her rump to induce urination. He then takes a mouthful of urine. If it tastes good to him, then he begins to court her.
Actually, "court" may be too strong a word: the male giraffe basically follows her around until she gives in and lets him have her! (Source)
Emperor Penguin: Starvin' for Love
Emperor Penguins, the subject of the popular 2005 documentary March of the Penguins, have a strange “marriage”. Penguin couples spend their lives apart from each other and meet once a year in late March, after traveling as far as 70 miles (112 km) inland - on foot or sliding on their bellies! - to reach the breeding site.
Once there, penguins look for their mates by making a bugling call. Male penguins generally stay in one place, lower their head to their chest and call out to the females. Once they find one another, they would stand breast to breast, repeatedly bow to each other and sing (okay, “bugle”).
Now, onto the mating itself: Like in most birds, penguins have no external genitalia. That’s right, male penguins don't have penises and the females don’t have vaginas. The male’s sperm is produced in the testes and stored in his cloaca (kind of an all purpose orifice for defecating, urinating, and reproduction). The female also has a cloaca that leads to the ovaries. The female penguin lies flat on the ground and the male penguin presses his cloaca onto hers and passes the sperms through.
Once the egg is laid, the female Emperor Penguin transfers it very carefully to her mate (if the egg touches the ice, it would freeze and die), who then keeps the egg warm by tucking it under a large fold of skin until it hatches. The female penguin immediately returns to the sea to feed, leaving the male without food for about two months. The male penguins would huddle together in large groups to conserve body heat in the cold and harsh environment, where winds can reach up to 120 mph (200 km per hour). When the female returns, she finds her mate (and chick) by listening to one particular bugle over thousands other.
When it was released, March of the Penguins sparked a controversy when the Christian right claimed it as a parable of monogamy amongst other things. Turns out, Emperor Penguins are serially monogamous – meaning that for that breeding season, they only have one mate. However, if they can’t find one another the next season (and most can’t – only about 15% of pairs find each other in subsequent year, and just 5% in the third year) they will choose new mates.
Dolphin: That's Not His Hand.
Here's something you probably don't know about Flipper: he has retractable penis. And if that's not cool enough, here's something else: his penis is prehensile. And it swivels. In fact, a male dolphin can use his penis to explore objects just like a hand.
Male dolphins also have a very strong sex drive. It can mate many, many times in a day. Now here's the bad news: male dolphins aren't that much of a stud. The average time to ejaculation? 12 seconds.
Another hushed-up fact is that male dolphins have a ravenous sexual appetite: they often try to hump inanimate objects and even other animals like sea turtles. When a pack of male dolphins happen upon a female, often times they will attempt to force her to mate.
Percula Clownfish: Your Mommy Was Your Daddy.
In Disney's animated movie Finding Nemo, the animators forgot to tell you one thing about clownfish: they can change gender!
Clownfish live in a group consisting of a breeding pair of male and female, as well as some non-breeding males. There is strict hierarchy based on size: the largest is the female, next largest is the male, and then the non-breeding males.
If the female dies (or gets fished, I suppose), the male will change sex and become the female! Then the largest of the non-breeding males will get a promotion to become the breeding male.
Giant Panda: X-Rated Panda Porn!
For a while, zookeepers had trouble getting pandas raised in captivity to breed. In fact, male and female pandas showed little interest in sex - that is until someone at the Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding and Research Base in Sichuan Province, China, had the bright idea of showing them panda porn!
Now, when pandas reach adulthood, zookeepers there show them steamy videos of panda sex as part of their initiation rites.
Galapagos Giant Tortoise: The Longest Neck Wins.
To determine who gets to mate, male Galapagos giant tortoises will rise on their legs and stretch their necks. The shorter tortoise will cry uncle and leave the taller, larger tortoise to mate.
The victor then proceeds to attract a female by bellowing and bobbing his head furiously. When he has found a mate, the male rams the female and nips her legs until she draws them in, thereby immobilizing her. He then proceeds to mount her.
Mating can last for hours, during which the male grunts and roars loudly (see video clip). If he seems terribly excited about the whole deal, that's probably because he's been waiting a long time for sex. See, it takes 40 years for Galapagos giant tortoises to reach sexual maturity.
So what happened to the short "loser" male tortoises? Frustrated males have been observed humping rocks and even other frustrated males (why, there's even a YouTube clip).
Garden Snail: Love Darts
Snails' genitals are on their necks, right behind their eye-stalks. Not weird enough? Read on.
Snails are hermaphrodites, meaning they have both male and female sexual organs, but they do not self-fertilize.
Before two snails mate, they shoot "love darts" made of calcium at each other. People used to think that these sharp darts are nutritional gifts, like you give someone you love a box of chocolate.
Scientists now think, however, that these darts serve a more sinister purpose. The mucus on the darts allow more sperms to be stored in the snail's uterus (and thus helped it gain an edge in reproduction).
There's no advantage to the target snail (getting hit may even be dangerous as snails are really, really bad shots). Indeed, snails jostle each other not only to get into a better position to fire their darts, but also to avoid getting hit themselves! (Source)
Bedbug: Traumatic Insemination
Here's chivalry for you: the male bedbugs don't even bother with the female's sex organs. Instead, a male bedbug uses its scimitar-like sexual organ to impale the female bedbug's body and deposit his sperm!
Scientists even have a cute name for this sort of thing: "traumatic insemination." Ouch!
Porcupine: Wee Marks the Spot.
Quick: how do porcupines mate? If you answer: "carefully," you'd only be half right - it's also "bizarrely." Indeed, porcupines have a very bizarre mating habit:
First of all, female porcupines are interested in sex only about 8 to 12 hours in a year! Second, to court a female during the short mating season, a male porcupine stands up on his hind legs, waddles up to her, and then sprays her with a huge stream of urine from as far as 6 feet away, and drench his would-be paramour from head to foot!
If the female wasn't impressed, she'll scream and shake off the urine. But, if she is ready, then she'll rear up to expose her quill-less underbelly and let the male mount her from the behind (that's the only safe position for porcupines!). Once mating begins, the female is insatiable: she forces the male to mate many times until he is thoroughly exhausted. If he gets tired too quickly, she will leave him for another male! (Source)
Red Velvet Mite: The Love Gardener
Red velvet mite, which is as big as one of the letters in this sentence, has a peculiar mating habit.
The male releases its sperms on small twigs or stalks in what scientists call the "love garden", then lays down an intricate silken trail to the spot. When a female stumbles upon this trail, she will follow it to seek out the "artist". If she likes his work, then she will sit on the sperm.
However, if another male spots the garden, he will trash it and lay his own instead! (Source)
Bowerbird: Obsessive Decorator of Bachelor Pad
To attract a mate, the male bowerbird [wiki] builds an amazingly complex structure called a bower. It is made of twigs and often shaped like a small hut.
The male bird then decorates his "bachelor pad" bower with a variety of objects as gifts: flowers, feathers, stones, and even bits of discarded plastics and glass. Hundreds of pieces are carefully arranged in monochromatic themes (i.e. all blue items). The bird is so anal that it will get really angry if you mess up its pile (say, by putting one differently colored pebble in its pile).
The male bowerbird spends hours sorting and arranging things. In fact, it will break its focus only to go to a different males' bowers to steal stuff and mess the place up!
Don't miss: David Attenborough on Bowerbird [YouTube]
Macaque: Sneaky Attackers
Male macaques will pay (in form of fruits) to get a peek at the hind quarters of a female macaque.
Actually, that's not all: they will also pay to gaze at pictures of dominant "celebrity" monkeys (i.e. the high-ranking males) in their pack. Huh.
Anyways, if that isn't enough bad behavior for you, think about this: macaque males will attack their enemy when he is at his weakest: during orgasm.
Fire Ant: Queen and Workers "Negotiate" the Colony's Sex Ratio
Ants have a complex social structure. Case in point: some scientists used to think that worker ants are all females who control the queen (a simple egg-laying machine) and kill their brothers while still larvae.
It turns out the queen has more say than this: she controls the number of females and male eggs she lays.
But why does a colony's sex ratio matter? A queen wants to propagate her line by producing another queen, which needs male drones to mate and produce a colony. Worker ants, on the other hand, have no use for males (which die after mating).
So, the queen and her daughters negotiate a rather violent solution: when she needs male drones, the queen will "overwhelm" the colony with male eggs. The female workers will kill many of their brothers, but they can't kill them all! (Source)
Sea Hare: Mating Chain
Sea hares, like all sea slugs (see flatworm above), are hermaphrodites. But that's not all - they're efficient hermaphorodites! When sea hares mate, they form a mating chain of several animals!
The sea hare in front acts as the female to the one directly behind it. Sometimes, they even form a giant circle, with everyone inside happily mating the day away. (Source)
Argonaut: Detachable Penis
Argonaut or paper nautilus is a weird species of octopus. First, they have a highly divergent sexual dimorphism. That's science-speak for the difference in body sizes between males and females. A female argonaut grows up to 10 cm (~ 4 in.) with shells as large as 45 cm (~ 18 in.) The male, however, is only 2 cm (3/4 in) long!
But that's not why argonaut is on this list. The male argonaut produces a ball of spermatozoa in a special tentacle called a hectocotylus [wiki]. When meeting a female it fancies, the male then detaches its penis to swim by itself to the female!
This detachable swimming penis was actually first noted by an Italian naturalist back in the 1800s, who mistook it for a parasitic worm!
Whiptail Lizard: Sex? No Thanks! We'll Clone Ourselves Instead.
How does a whiptail lizard have sex? Trick question! There are no males - all whiptail lizards are females, so they can't have sex at all. Wait a minute - so how do they reproduce? By cloning themselves:
In the bizarre life of a whiptail lizard, reproduction is preceeded by pseudocopulation, where two females act out the roles of a male mounting a female (they switch roles later on).
Apparently, this is required to stimulate egg production in both lizards. When the eggs hatch, they will be all-female clones of the mother lizard. (Source)
Straw Itch Mite: Incestuous Brothers
After they are born, the male straw itch mites (pyemotes) hang around their mom, stinging her to suck out her body fluids.
The male mites are born sexually mature. In fact, they will immediately grab and mate with their sister within minutes of her birth!
(Image Source: Ronald Ochoa, Systematic Entomology Laboratory)
Banana Slug: Penis Stuck? Chew It Off!
Banana slug, the beloved mascot of UC Santa Cruz, has a weird mating habit. First of all, they have an enormous penis. (In fact, their latin name dolichyphallus translates to "giant penis.") The average size of a banana slug penis is 6 to 8 inches. This is incredibly impressive, considering their entire body length is 6 to 8 inches as well!
Banana slugs are hermaphrodites, so two slugs will try to fertilize each other. To mate properly, a slug must choose a mate roughly its own size - if it miscalculates, its penis will get stuck during copulation.
This isn't just an embarrassing faux pas, the other slug will actually bite off the stuck penis, a term scientists euphemistically called "apophallation." (Source)
Anglerfish: Let's Me Be A Part of You. Literally.
Anglerfish, a deep sea fish named for the spiny appendage on its head that it uses as bait to "fish" its prey, has an unusual mating habit. As it spends its time in the bottom of the ocean, finding a mate is a problem - but the species solved this evolutionary challenge beautifully.
At first, scientists were perplexed because they've never caught a male anglerfish. Also, all female anglerfish have a lump on their body that looks like a parasite. Only later did scientists discover that the lump is the remain of the male fish.
The tiny male anglerfish are born without any digestive system, so once they hatch, they have to find a female quickly. When a male finds a female, he quickly bites her body and releases an enzyme that digests his skin and her body to fuse the two in an eternal embrace. The male then wastes away, becoming nothing but a lump on the female anglerfish's body!
When the female is ready to spawn, her "male appendage" is there, ready to release sperms to fertilize her egg.
Barnacle: Inflatable Penis
Barnacles, those crustaceans that stick themselves to the bottom of boats (much to the consternation of sailors everywhere), are stuck in one position all their lives.
So, how do they mate? The solution, turns out, is brilliantly simple: the barnacle has an inflatable penis that is up to 50 times as long as its body. In fact, it has the longest penis in the animal kingdom, relative to body length!
Fruit Fly: World's Longest Sperm
The title of world's longest sperm actually belongs to a tiny fruit fly called Drosophila bifurca. When the coiled sperm is straightened out, it measures about 2 inches which is over 1,000 times longer than a human sperm. In fact, the testes of a fruit fly makes up 11 percent of the body mass of the male!
Turns out the very long sperm is evolutionarily driven by the just-as-long female reproductive tract, which is like an obstacle course, complete with harsh chemicals to weed out weak sperms. (Source)
Argentine Lake Duck: Very Well-Endowed, Can Even Lasso a Female.
The Argentine lake duck may be small, but don't take pity on it. See, the drake (male duck) of the lowly fowl has the longest penis of any bird species in the world.
From head to tail, the Argentine lake duck measures about 17 inches. That also happens to be the length of its corkscrew-shaped penis when stretched out. The tip of the penis is soft and brush-like, which the drake uses to brush away sperms deposited by a previous suitor.
University of Alaska Kevin McCracken explains that the ducks are promiscuous, and the long penis may be an evolutionary adaptation for the males to become more attractive to the females. That, and the drake also uses his penis to "lasso" a female who tries to escape from it. (Source)
Gorilla: Big, But Not So Big.
Let's end this lengthy article with the gorillas, the largest of all living primates.
Upside: Mature male gorillas, called silverbacks, are huge (up to 425 lb., sometimes even more). A silverback lives in a troop of 5 up to 30 females, with which he mates all year long. There is little competition for females, since a large silverback is scary and can easily protect its group from challengers.
Downside: 1 1/2 inch (~ 4 cm) penis. (Yeah, no competition for females remember?). So, remember that next time someone say you're an "800-lb gorilla" - it may just be an insult!