Valentine’s day animal style: strangest mating behaviours in nature

In the spirit of Valentine’s day, Katarzyna Siewierska describes some bizarre mating rituals and unexpected physical characteristics.


The bees … and exploding genitalia!

The mating ritual in bees is so bizarre you won’t want to believe it, but it is true. It all starts with a queen bee being bred in a special cell in the beehive. She is fed jelly by the bee workers to become sexually mature. The queen bee that survives to maturity without being murdered by her rival bees, then mates with several male drones chosen out of tens of thousands of candidates. You may think those drones would feel pretty special to be chosen to mate with the queen, but not necessarily. This is because during coitus the drone’s genitals explode and snap off inside the queen bee and the snapped off penis acts as a plug to prevent other drones from fertilising the queen! After the genitals explode, the drone dies. If Beyonce is really the queen bee, I feel very sorry for Jay Z.

Female hyenas and their… testicles?

Yes, female hyenas have testicles and are bigger, stronger and more aggressive than their male counterparts. But this is only the beginning of this story. Female hyenas have an particularly enlarged clitoris, which can be thought of as a pseudopenis, that they can erect. The male has a penis as well so you may think how do they do it? Well, to mate the male inserts his penis into the female’s pseudopenis and after the baby hyena has developed inside the female, the female gives birth through the pseudopenis.

Porcupines – haystack of needles

Porcupines are almost completely covered with needles, so how do they reproduce? Well, let me begin with the fact that female porcupines are interested in copulation for about 8 to 12 hours a year! The reproduction ritual begins with the male getting up on his hind legs and showering the female with his urine. If the female is not happy, she shakes off the urine. If she is in the mood, she allows the male to get into position to mate. Once mating begins, the female will force the male to mate until he is completely exhausted. If this happens too soon, the female abandons the male and waits for another candidate.   

Clown fish – the gender bender

Remember Finding Nemo? The story told in the movie does not correspond to scientific facts so listen up. A clownfish group consists of a breeding couple,  male and female, and a few non-breeding males. The female in the largest fish in the group, the male is the second largest and the other fish are the non-breeding males. Now, if the female dies, the breeding male will change into a female and the next largest non-breeding male will be promoted to a breeding male. Turns out Marlin was actually Marlina!

Saving the giant panda… with panda pornography

For quite some time, zookeepers were concerned by the fact that giant pandas raised in captivity had no interest in mating. This is not great news because pandas are such adorable animals. However, then someone at the Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding and Research Base in Sichuan Province, China had a pretty crazy idea. The idea was to get the pandas to watch some quality panda adult movies and see if it has any effect. Long story short, the screenings of videos of copulating pandas to captive pandas is now a part of their initiation rites.

Banana slugs – miscalculation before copulation

Banana slugs are slugs that look very much like ripe, yellow bananas. A typical slug would be from 6 to 8 inches long. They are hermaphrodites, so two slugs will try to mate. The latin name for a banana slug is dolichyphallus, which means “giant penis”. Indeed, their penis can be between 6 to 8 inches long, i.e. they are nearly all penis. These slugs have to be careful with choosing their mating partner. They must make sure their chosen one is approximately the same size. Failure to do so may result in the penis getting stuck during coitus and the other slug will chew off the stuck penis! Scientists call this “apophallation”.

The world’s longest sperm award goes to … the fruit fly!

Everyone has seen a fruit fly – they are tiny. However inside a male fruit fly is a coiled sperm that is about 2 inches long, i.e. it is over 1000 times longer than a human sperm. Also, the testicles of a fruit fly make up 11 percent of the mass of  a typical male. Now you may think, why would such a tiny organism have such a long sperm? The answer is that the female fruit fly reproductive tract is also very long and is like a obstacle course at a military training camp to keep weak sperms out.

We talked about the bees, let’s talk birds

I wonder if any of you know what the Argentine Lake Duck is famous for. Is it the color of their feathers? No. Perhaps the characteristic blue beak? Nope! Oh, is it because it is the holder of the Guinness World Record of the longest penis of all vertebrates in relation to its body length? Bingo! To explain this, we must understand that these ducks are highly promiscuous birds. Their penis is coiled up inside them and when erect can be as long as the duck itself. The penis is shaped like a corkscrew and the females have a long corkscrew vagina that spirals in the opposite direction. The penis has a bristled tips acts like a brush to remove sperm deposited by the previous male partner as a way of dealing with competition. Sometimes the males use their penis as a lasso on reluctant females that try to escape it.

Don’t judge a gorilla by its size

I remember my trip to the Dublin Zoo where I saw a gorilla up close. They are truly majestic creatures and the largest of all living primates. Mature male gorillas are absolutely huge and each one lives with between five and 30 females. They can easily protect all of their ladies as they are scary and strong and they mate with all the females all year long. You might think, wow up to 30 females and just one guy? It sounds like being a gorilla is nice, but there is a catch. The average penis size of a silverback gorilla is … 4 cm! And when you’re a giant gorilla 4 cm is really not much. But sure, size isn’t everything.