For human beings, Valentine’s Day ranks as a celebration of love, where we shower those closest to us with affection, gifts, and delicious food. In the animal kingdom, these types of courtship displays happen all the time – and often, go well beyond the requisite “dinner for two.” Many animals spend an inordinate amount of time working to find a mate, and with good reason – individuals in some species build romantic relationships that last a lifetime.
Read on to learn about a few of the animal kingdom’s most interesting mating rituals. And scroll a bit further down to enjoy the love stories of those animals who mate for life.
The Most Interesting Animal Mating Rituals
Japanese Pufferfish, the underwater artists
In 1995, divers off the coast of Japan found a series of intricately designed “crop circles” in the seafloor, like the one above. These circular patterns measure some seven feet in diameter, and it took scientists years to determine that they’re made by a fish only five inches long! The males in a newly discovered species of pufferfish swim close to the seabed and flap their fins to sculpt these ridges and valleys, ina process that can take up to nine days. They decorate their creations with shell fragments and sediment, in hopes of attracting the discerning eye of a female. If their designs are deemed worthy, the female pufferfish lays her eggs in the center of the design. Talk about an interactive art installation!
Great crested grebes, the choreography champions
With apologies to the various dances birds of paradise that most people have seen on nature documentaries, we submit that the great crested grebe owns the most fabulous courtship dance routine in the animal kingdom. These elaborate rituals have to be seen to be believed, so just watch the video above, and enjoy!
Marvelous Spatuletail, the bird with the dancing tail
The six-inch-long marvelous spatuletail is one of the more accurately named birds out there. The males possess two long, thin tail feathers that end in brilliantly colored paddles, which resemble two iridescent spatulas. These tail adornments double bird’s overall length, and the male uses them in an intricately choreographed dance to attract the notice, and affection, of a female bird. A tale of two tails, you might say.
Bowerbirds, illusionists with a knack for construction
Another well-titled bird, the male Bowerbird is renowned for building a beautiful and intricate bower (or shelter) that simultaneously attracts and misleads female bowerbirds. The males spend hours laboriously constructing an avenue-like bower similar to the one seen above, and decorate it with shells and colorful objects. But interestingly, the male deliberately arranges the sticks and ground-based decorations to make himself appear larger when standing in front of the bower, and to make the bower appear longer than it is when the female steps inside. It’s truly a master of the visual and constructive arts.
Brown hares, the boxing bachelorettes
The boxing of the brown hares represents perhaps the best-known courtship ritual among animals of the UK. This famous rite of Spring sees the male hares chasing females full-tilt across the hills and dales of the United Kingdom, giving rise to their expression “mad as a March hare.” The “boxing” aspect of the routine actually comes from the females, who use flailing feet and forepaws to play hard to get, keeping overzealous males from getting too close.
Five Animals Who Mate for Life
While many members of the animal kingdom are unscrupulous about their romantic relationships, there are a few species who should be looked at as role models for monogamy.
Sandhill cranes, singing in perfect harmony
Another bird with love on its mind, the sandhill crane shows off a unique skill in acquiring and keeping a mate: the ability to sing. In the video above, you can see the cranes dancing and calling in unison. Once a crane has found a mate in this unusual way, the pair stays together for life, and shares the duties of nest-building, guarding their eggs from predators, and caring for the premature cranes until they reach maturity.
European beavers, the world’s most trustworthy mates
In addition to building some frankly astonishing living quarters, European beavers rank as the most trustworthy mates in the animal kingdom. These furry friends choose a partner and stick with them through thick and thin, as scientists have discovered that they reproduce solely with their mate, and never stray. Talk about relationship goals!
Bald eagles, a symbol of America – and love
Our nation’s most famous bird looks like a vicious predator, but possesses a surprisingly tender side. Bald eagles pair up for life, and show their commitment by continually improving their family home. After years of renovation, some nests can spread up to 10 feet wide, and weigh some two tons!
Dik-diks, the cutest couples in Africa
At only 12-16 inches tall and weighing about 12 pounds, the miniscule dik-dik ranks as the world’s second smallest antelope. These adorable ungulates make their homes in the grasslands of the savanna, and unlike their much larger cousins, they live in pairs rather than large herds. Each dik-dik couple stays together and raises their young, providing shelter and warning about predators until the juvenile dik-diks grow old enough to fend for themselves.
Prairie voles, the blueprint for monogamy
Though most rodents are not monogamous, prairie voles are the exception – and one of Nature’s more praiseworthy examples of lifelong relationships. These den-digging mammals pledge themselves to one mate for as long as they both shall live. In fact, scientists have begun to study the chemistry in these little voles’ brains for clues as to what keeps them coming back to their mates time after time.
As you celebrate Valentine’s Day with your loved ones, we hope this renews your faith in the rituals of courtship and the bonds of love. And if you’re yearning to strike out on a new adventure, check out our wide selection of small group tours!