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Fascinating facts about mating in the animal kingdom

  • Only the best neck-fighting giraffes will mate

    Unlike many animals, giraffes don’t have a breeding season—they’re ready to rock and roll whenever the females are fertile. Males figure this out by smelling and sometimes drinking the urine expelled by females—but mating isn’t a given. In order to earn the right, male giraffes duke it out in violent neck-to-neck battles to determine which one is stronger and therefore more attractive to the female.

  • Humpback whales keep it on the down-low

    Female humpback whales are not monogamous and hook up with several partners during the mating season while rarely interacting with other females during that time. Many adult males are covered in scars, most of which come from intense battles that, like giraffes, they stage for the right to mate. What makes them so unique is their incredible discretion—no human being has ever witnessed humpback whales mating.

  • Antechinus mates until it kills him

    The tiny mouselike marsupials known as Antechinus is more compulsive about sex than even the bonobo. The Antechinus remains chaste until mating season arrives. Then the males seek out frenzied mating sessions, often lasting 14 hours, with as many females as possible, and doing nothing else until their immune systems collapse, they develop gangrene and infections, their bodies dissolve, and they die attempting to pass on their genes.

  • Prairie voles have family values

    Not only do prairie voles partner up for life, and not only are they monogamous—two biological rarities in and of themselves—but they’re actually devoted parents. Both parties stick around to raise their young, and if the male slacks, the female will put him in check by yanking the scruff of his neck. When one dies, the other displays emotional grief.

  • Lovebirds start with dinner dates

    As their name implies, lovebirds are heavy on romance, with the male feeding the female at the start of courtship—kind of like the avian equivalent of taking a date out to dinner. Then they go on extended mating benders, which take place several times a day for days on end. It doesn’t take long—a clutch of eggs can be laid as soon as three days after mating.

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  • For hippos, power is everything

    In the unforgiving hippo world, it pays to be a big, strong man. Females are fertile for only about three days a year, and about 90% of all males will never know what it feels like to mate. That privilege is reserved only for bulls who rule a territory, and those dominant males will each take up to 10 female cows, leaving lesser males to play the role of wallflower.

  • Anglerfish live to mate—but often die trying

    One of the most imposing-looking creatures in the sea, anglerfish are known for giant mouths filled with dagger teeth and, of course, their trademark illuminated lure—but those are the females. Their male counterparts are far less imposing—in fact, they’re so underdeveloped that most can’t even digest food. Upon birth, their sole purpose is to find and inseminate a female, but most will wander through their watery world blind and feeble before starving to death as virgins.

  • Sound, not size, matters for water boatmen

    Water boatmen are tiny swimming insects that hold the title of being the loudest animal on Earth relative to its size—and he makes his music, you guessed it, to attract females. By rubbing their penises against their abdomens, male water boatmen can generate a sound that reaches 99.2 decibels. That’s loud enough that a person standing on a riverbank can hear his mating call at the bottom of the water.

  • Sage grouse seduce on the dance floor

    Like manakins, sage grouse are known for their elaborate mating dances, which they perform to entice fertile females. Setting up cameras where they live to observe the display has become a kind of ritual among bird-watchers. Since females only mate with a small percentage of the male population, competition is stiff. Every morning during mating season, males wake up early to fan their tail feathers, pop their specialized air sacs, and strut around with their chests puffed out, hoping for a sage grouse of the fairer sex to take notice.

  • Birds of paradise work hard to show off

    One of the most mysterious animals, birds of paradise live only in New Guinea and a few tiny Australian islands—their largely inaccessible habitats make their behavior hard to document. What is known, however, is that they put on a ritualized mating dance that can rival even that of the sage grouse, with some kinds of birds of paradise contorting to shape-shift into seemingly different creatures altogether. Others smoosh their feathers down to form a ballerina’s tutu while strutting for the attention of females deep in the rainforest jungle.

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