The Birds and the Bees

Ah, Spring. The time of year when a young man’s fancy turns to hissing, wing-beating, face-rubbing and primal mating dances. Okay, perhaps not every human man. But it’s hard to deny that love is in the air when creatures all around us (from the hissing cockroach to the mud-slinging hippopotamus), are getting it on. If you find the mating rituals of the wild a little bizarre, you may want to hold judgment. Some of these courtship practices may sound suspiciously familiar.

The sound of seduction
The bull elk knows the value of a deep, sexy voice. He will bugle to attract a female when he’s feeling frisky. The timbre of his call actually relays information to potential females about his size and social standing, in addition to his location. Once he’s arranged a face-to-face, he tries to arouse her with his mighty antlers. The bigger the antlers, the more triumphant he has been in sparring with other bulls. And you know what they say about big antlers…

Creativity goes a long way

The bowerbird, not so massive or resonant a creature as the bull elk, prefers to allure females with his creative flair. He painstakingly crafts a structure out of hundreds of shells, flowers, insect wings, pebbles, feathers and other found items, mostly blue or purple. The result is an intricate U-shaped bower that reflects the personal taste of each artist. The female carefully inspects each bower, then settles down with the architect of the one she most admires. She’s no fool. She’s scored herself a sensitive artist and a stunning new home.

Experience is required
As the only female in the hive able to mate, the queen bee has no fear of competition. And since she has so many eager drones from which to choose, why should she settle for just one? When she is sexually mature, her majesty couples in flight with nearly 20 drone suitors. Hopefully, she savors the experience. The queen will never mate again, having received enough sperm in that first ambitious undertaking to last her entire lifespan. Not that the kids will leave her with much time for a sex life. The queen bee will spend the next couple years producing close to 3,000 eggs.

It doesn’t hurt to put on a show
Many reptiles engage in ritual fighting to attract a female. These displays are mostly about impressing the ladies and include a lot of threats and posturing, but little or no real violence. They issue a series of challenges, making loud noises or changing shape and color to look larger and more intimidating. The trash-talking and posturing often escalates into a half-hearted sparring match as the rivals lunge toward each other or act as if they are biting. Clearly, these quick-tempered creatures are putting on an elaborate show of their masculinity. Boys, after all, will be boys.

Girls like nest-building and being fed
Girls are suckers for presents, a favorite strategy in the avian community. Many birds try to charm potential mates with gifts of sticks, grass or pebbles as nest-building materials. The common tern prefers to wine and dine his dates, and will catch a fish and offer it to his intended, while the northern cardinal comes on a little stronger. He brazenly inserts his gift of food into the female’s beak. If she accepts his offer of dinner, why shouldn’t he score a little smooching in return? Wondering how this applies to you? Well, the Homo Sapien is an interesting case. The male has been observed to employ a combination of various courtship rituals in pursuing a mate. He engages in athletic activities with other men and puffs out his chest to indicate dominance and confidence.

Some in the species will engage in ritual fighting, while others attempt to prove their suitability as a provider by showing off intelligence, possessions or territory. It is also common for males to woo intended mates with offers of food, plants and shiny objects. And while some females play coy to attract a mate, others are happy to oblige early on and discard at will.

So if you’re feeling a little antsy this season, you’re not alone (though the mating season for most ants doesn’t technically begin until July). With no shortage of creativity, resourcefulness or enthusiasm, the birds, bees, dingoes and platypuses are right there with you. Actually, it should be no surprise if you find your mind wandering or your fantasies racing during the day. In light of the overwhelming amount of energy that goes into the intricate processes of courtship, it’s a wonder we have time to think about anything else.

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