10 Highly Unusual Animal Mating Rituals

Have you ever gotten an email attachment of an animal doing something cute? Or found yourself watching countless videos of animals showing compassion to one another? As a result of these videos, many of us have come to see animals outside of their true nature. Survival in nature is not pretty, and, at times, the survival of a species is the result of a terribly gruesome or just plain bizarre process of reproduction.

We at Top Tenz have decided to awaken you from your slumber, and share with you 10 of the most terrifying, bizarre, and just plain gross mating rituals in the animal kingdom. We hope the the next time you watch a silly video on animals, you’ll think of us.

10. Cannibalistic Tendencies of the Female Praying Mantis

Many of our readers may already know the gruesome mating rituals of the praying mantis, but for those of you who don’t, please try and keep your heads. Named for its prominent front legs, which are bent and held together in a position reminiscent of prayer, the praying mantis is a skillful predator. Mantises can rotate their triangular heads 180 degrees to scan their surroundings with two large compound eyes. They also have three other simple eyes located between them, to boot. Another advantage of the praying mantis is its ability to camouflage. Usually either green or brown, it can hide among the plants and stalk its prey. Mantises use their quick reflexes and spike-equipped legs to trap and kill their prey.

Unfortunately for the male praying mantises, females view their own species as prey. The female praying mantis is unequivocally cannibalistic, luring males with her pheromones. The unsuspecting male engages in a courtship dance, and if selected, fertilization begins. During or after fertilization, the female praying mantis will see fit to chew off her partner’s head. That’s right: she’ll bite off his head. How has the species survived with such mating practices? Apparently, laboratory observations have deemed that the headless mantis “thrusts more vigorously without his noggin attached; other studies cite sexual cannibalism as a way to increase the success and duration of copulation — which in some species can be a prolonged affair, lasting several hours.”

9. Lesson from Nursery Web Spiders: Never Come Empty Handed

Ever thought someone wanted you just because of your possessions? Well, nursery web spiders have no problem putting their cards on the table. Observations made by a team of scientists, led by Dr. Maria Albo, found that “male nursery web spiders who brought their intended mate a nutritious gift in the form of an insect wrapped in silk had more reproductive success than their counterparts, who brought the female no gift.” To put it bluntly, female spiders were more likely to mate with gift-giving males. Male spiders who came empty handed certainly were able to find potential mates; however, males who brought gifts were allowed by a female to mate for almost ten times longer than their empty-handed counterparts. Studies have also shown that the sperm of gift-giving males’ eggs were more likely to successfully hatch into spider-hatchlings.

Dr. Albo’s team further concluded that female nursery web spiders, who mate with more than one partner, can favor one male’s sperm over another’s either during or after copulation by ejecting unwanted sperm after boning. This is also true of many other species, from ducks to insects. Just goes to show that you shouldn’t go on a date empty handed.

8. Honey Bees Will Sacrifice More Than You’d Guess for Their Queen

One of the insects on our list that has managed to become loved is the honey bee. Whether it be animated movies or friendly cartoons, bees have found a soft spot in our hearts. A greater understanding of their mating ritual may change some hearts and minds.

The honey bee’s mating process is an immensely interesting and complex process that begins with a queen bee. The queen is selectively bred in a special “queen cell” in the hive while being fed royal jelly by the worker bees to promote her sexual maturity. A virgin queen bee who manages to survive her rivals’ assaults will take a mating flight with a dozen or so male drones. The dozens of male bees that escort the virgin queen are chosen out of the thousands of prospects that serve the queen in the colony. Their selection will, however, come at a price. During the mating rituals, the genitals of the male bees explode and snap off inside the queen. As we learned with the praying mantis, the bizarre act has an evolutionary purpose. The snapped-off penis acts as a genital plug to prevent other male bees/drones from fertilizing the queen. A tough price to pay for the chance of your seed living on.

7. Sea Slugs Aren’t Averse to Drugging Their Mates

Using drugs to induce a partner into having sex is sexual assault in most nations around the world… just don’t tell that to sea slugs. The species that inhabits Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is armed with a weapon of love. The sea slug’s weapon of choice is “a hypodermic device for injecting chemicals” that makes a partner more willing. Scientists have observed that the slugs aim for the head with the needle-like appendage, for great impact on central nervous system. The mating tactic, which has not been observed before in other animals, is believed to contain compounds that manipulate the victim and make the reproductive process more successful. Researchers postulate that the evolutionary reason for the process is to keep slugs from ingesting the sperm, and rather using it to fertilize eggs.

We know what you’re thinking: these male slugs are a piece of work. And you’d be wrong. Sea slugs are hermaphrodites, possessing both male and female reproductive parts – so when the mating ritual takes place both are trying to inject the other. We guess it’s true what they say: all is fair in love and war… as long as you’re a sea slug.

6. Red Garter Snake’s Create Tourist Attractions

An easy way to decide if an animal’s mating habits are out of the ordinary is if it creates an annual tourist attraction. That’s exactly what happens in Manitoba, Canada when the female red garter snake emerges from hibernation. Crowds of people watch as the female snake releases a pheromone that attracts hundreds of snakes in the nearby areas to surround her and create an ever-moving mating mosh pit.

We were surprised to learn that the male garter snake has two penises on each side of its body. The scientific term is “hemipenes” and the garter snake attempts to use the better positioned penis to mate with the female who squirms in the center of the mating ball. If a species with two penises didn’t freak you out, how about the fact that garter snakes also have “she-males” who release pheromones just like the females do. Of course the male snakes fall for it and hundreds of them pile on top of him/her. What was the evolutionary purpose of such behavior?

Scientists were puzzled. Some believed it was an attempt for the she-male snakes to gain advantage in mating: the idea being that the male snakes would grow tired after circling she-male, then the she-male would resume its male identity and mate with female. However, after observations, scientists found that the she-males were not more likely to mate. Finally, after collaboration between evolutionary and reproductive biologists, they found the simple but true answer. It improved the she-male’s chances of survival. Researchers observed that high numbers of male garter snakes die soon after emerging from hibernation because they are attacked by crows, (however) she-males at the center of a mating ball are less exposed to predators.” In addition, she-males are able to use the body-heat of the hundreds of male snakes to raise their body temperature and thus accelerate their recovery from hibernation, improving their chances, again, of survival.

It’s hard not to marvel at mother nature.

5. Giraffes Are Super Kinky

We know what you’re thinking: such elegant creatures like giraffes couldn’t be on this list. Well, it just so happens those long necks of theirs are used for more than grabbing the tallest of tree branches. Male giraffes will nudge a female’s rump in order to prompt urination – called the “flehmen sequence.” The purpose of the “flehmen sequence” is to establish whether or not the female giraffe is in estrus (breeding season of a species). A male giraffe will then take a mouthful of urine, and if he enjoys the taste, he will proceed to stalk her until she relents. The process takes quite some time, with the male giraffe having to establish dominance via high or low intensity “necking.” Sounds like a typical night at a frat house.

Another fascinating aspect of giraffes mating is that a high percentage of sexual encounters are between males. A noted study holds that after intense “necking” encounters, males will engage in a gay sexual behavior. The study observed that up to 94% of sexual encounters witnessed were between male giraffes.

4. Birds of Paradise Practice Their Whole Lives to Impress a Mate

It’s hard not to sympathize with the mating ritual of the birds of paradise. Found in eastern Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and eastern Australia, a male bird of paradise is made to practice his whole life for his opportunity at mating. When the time comes to court a potential mate, he displays ornamental feathers and dances his heart out for the prospective female.

From the dance and display, the female bird is able to learn if he’s a suitable mate by the color and quality of his feathers. If she decides he is not the one, she’ll keep on walking – an experience most of us can relate to.  

3. Hippos Love to Get Down and Dirty

For most of us, a night out that ends with us defecating on ourselves rarely leads to meaningful connection. However, for hippos, that couldn’t be further from the truth. The mating process, unsurprisingly, takes place in the water where its buoyancy will prevent the female from being injured from the extreme weight of the male. Before the love-making will commence, the male hippo must attract his partner.

This is done by urinating and defecating simultaneously, with the male then twirling his tail around  like a propeller, flinging his droppings in all directions. Somehow this tactic works and female hippos become drawn to the dominant male hippo in the group.

2. White-Fronted Parrots Take French Kissing Too Far

Just because white-fronted parrots like to get a little kinky, we hope you won’t hold it against all parrots. And to be clear, what the white-fronted parrots engage in may be a little beyond kinky; it’s downright nasty. The mating rituals begins benign enough with the two parrots putting their beaks together and touching each other’s tongues. Nothing too disturbing about that, right? The parrots will continue “kissing” one another until the male… will vomit in the female’s mouth. That’s right: he’ll vomit directly into her mouth, and the female parrot likes it. For her, it amounts to a tasty treat that signals an even greater amount of intimacy.

We’re hoping the next time you’ve had a few too many and can’t make it to the bathroom, you won’t vomit and tell your significant other it’s a sign of your love.

1. Cichlid Fish: a Great Insight Into Evolutionary Biology

Probably the most fascinating case on our list gives us a unique insight into evolutionary biology. What is so interesting about the case of the cichlid fish is what it demonstrates about the role of the dominant male in the mating process and the subsequent suppression of beta males in the same groupings. Researchers have found that in African cichlid fish society, only the dominant male reproduces, leaving subordinate males to “feed when they can and keep their reproductive systems so suppressed they can practically pass for females.”

However, if the alpha male abdicates his throne, researchers have found that a once passive male will immediately take the place of the alpha male. Scientists have observed that a self-appointed alpha begins “acting alpha” within a few minutes of the disappearance of former alpha male. What we found particularly fascinating is that the new alpha male will have its sperm in top reproductive condition in less than a day. To further emphasize the point, the former beta fish, formerly had “endured drastically lowered hormone levels, severely shrunken testes and a noticeable (and perhaps understandable) pallor compared to the brightly colored alphas.” The case of the cichlid fish is further evidence of the great power of evolution.  

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