Top Story: February 14, 2014

Will You Be Mine?

valentines, valentine, mating, romance, love, animals, minks, spiders, sea slugs, bats, lyrebirds, mice, monkeys, birds, zoos

By Jami Smith

Happy Valentine’s Day from Science Today! The animals around us may not be celebrating today by exchanging flowers and chocolates, but they have their own special ways to woo. Maybe humans could take some tips for inspiring romance from our creature cousins. Here are some to consider:

Be comfortable in your own skin.
Animal welfare experts have found that relaxed, content male mink are more successful in the mating season than the discontented types. "We can't tell if the enriched males are more attractive, keener on mating or both," said University of Guelph professor Georgia Mason, "but the secret to their success is their calmer, more normal behavior."

Be a good dancer.
You don’t have to have moves like Jagger, but shaking your booty doesn’t hurt in the hunt for a mate. Wire-tailed manakins and Twelve-wired Birds-of-Paradise strut their stuff for potential partners in elaborate ways.

Go ahead, show ‘em what you’re working with.

Or be a good singer.
If dancing’s not for you, then start singing! Like the free-tailed bat of Texas, you can spur romance with a song. Biologist Mike Smotherman says bats fly by each other super fast­–up to 20 mph–so a male bat only has about a tenth of a second to catch a female’s attention. Sing it, brother!

Or do both at the same time.
Scientists say during the six winter weeks that male superb lyrebirds breed, they “almost constantly sing and dance.” These guys really put on a show.

Bring gifts and wrap them well.
Female Paratrechalea ornata spiders expect gifts, and they want some attention paid to the wrapping.  A good presentation of silk-wrapped prey can give one male spider a decided edge over a rival.

Have good taste.
Male mice who can’t taste sweet and umami flavors also can’t reproduce. Scientists were surprised to find that when they suppressed some taste receptor genes in mice, those mice also became sterile. Bummer!

Stay close.
Strawberry poison frogs have lots of ways to measure potential mates: good looks, territory size, the sonorous qualities of their calls… But more often than not, lady frogs choose lovers based on proximity. Sometimes, the closest frog wins.

And make sure the weather is nice.
Bad weather can ruin the mood, as evidenced by some beetles, moths and aphids in this study. When atmospheric pressure dropped near these insects, they lost interest (sort of).

Try building a castle. Or throwing a rock.
Flirting and displays of affection are common to the animal kingdom. Some female bearded capuchin monkeys in Brazil throw rocks at an ideal mate to get his attention. (That oughta do it.) And male cichlid fish build impressive sand castles for the ladies, with their mouths!

Know lots of different ways to get it on.
Some partners might not be satisfied with “traditional” mating methods. For instance, this hermaphroditic sea slug pays unusual attention to the forehead. (Don’t try this at home.)

If all else fails, take these tips from zookeepers.
Zoos sometimes have to work hard to get their captive animals to feel the love. These zookeepers have come up with a few tricks for encouraging animal romance, including leaving trails of fragrant herbs and playing Marvin Gaye tunes to potential lovebirds. If “Let’s Get It On,” doesn’t work, there’s always the “love tunnel.”

For more animal kingdom romance stories, see the Science Today video on mating here.

And if you’re looking for something romantic to do with your human valentine, the California Academy of Sciences can offer up its Animal Attractions exhibit.  Spend the day talking and reading about love? That might be just the ticket.

Image: Mink, being himself, Ken Colwell

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