On February the 14th we will be inclined to show our loved ones what they mean to us with tacky sentiments and novelty merchandise, but I’ve noticed we seem to be lacking something that most other corporate holidays cash in on – a mascot. Christmas has the reindeer and the robin, Easter has the bunny and the chick, and Valentine’s? Well yes it has the cupid, but flying chubby children just don’t say “I love you” the way a little fluffy creature from nature can. So here, I present to the corporate world the money makers – the top five creatures that will do anything for love.
The Bowerbird Bachelors
When I think of the term “bachelor pad” it conjures up images of unwashed undies, old beer cans, and questionable décor – but not if you were a Bowerbird. The Bowerbird gets its name from the males’ elaborate attempts at attracting a mate. They build structurally complicated and eccentric nests out of sticks and saplings – some even construct thatched roofs. Once their feat of engineering is complete, these multi-skilled birds decorate their “love nest” with the finest riches a lady Bowerbird could ask for. Precisely what the Bowerbird decorates his bower with differs between species and usually follows some sort of colour scheme. For example, the female Satin Bowerbird seems to go gaga for blue, and so the male busies himself for days hoarding any blue knick-knacks he can find. People have found shells, leaves, flowers, feathers, stones, and berries littering the nest sites, but Bowerbirds don’t discriminate against the man-made merchandise, they have also been found to collect discarded plastic items, coins, nails, rifle shells, and pieces of glass. The bird will spend days, arranging each piece just so. Ladies will visit many nest sites within her area and spend time carefully inspecting each of the efforts, sometimes returning to a prospective nest multiple times. Once confident she has identified the bower that satisfies her tastes, she will copulate and leave. Perhaps not the most romantic ending, but the male certainly deserves points for effort.
Dinner and dancing is a pretty standard date in the life of a female scorpion – the only thing is, the dance is actually a life-threatening battle between potential mating partners, and if it goes badly for the male, he could end up being served up as dinner. The ritual is usually held on a moonless night, in open expanses where males and females can be seen to judder and gyrate before contact. This process allows scorpions to recognise and assess each other’s compatibility through vibration and pheromone cues. After twenty minutes or so the male will approach the female, and grab her by the pincers. Holding her, face to face, they commence a sensual dance known as the “promenade à deux”, males have even been seen to “kiss” the female, nibbling her large pincer-like jaws. The real purpose of this, it is thought, is to inject a small amount of venom into her body, making her a more docile, and the encounter a little less risky for the male! During this elaborate dance, a space is cleared to enable him to safely deposit a package of sperm – known as a spermatophore. He then carefully directs her over the package, and when in position she will take the deposit up into her reproductive tract. After fertilization the male doesn’t hang around for a cuddle, they must make a quick escape or run the risk of being eaten by the female – charming!
You would think, perhaps, that snail sex would be a rather slow and sticky affair – and well, you’d be right – but couples pre-copulatory behaviour has shown snails to be very attentive and gentle lovers, spending between fifteen minutes and twelve hours “kissing” and “caressing” their partners before sex occurs. This rather graphic display of public affection does have a purpose; the male must locate the right location for which to fire his love dart – and that’s not just what the cool kids are calling it, it is in fact the scientific name for the male reproductive organ. Like cupid’s arrow, covered in mucus, the male lines himself up for the shot, and fires. The mucus causes the female’s reproductive tract to contract and greatly increases the amount of sperm she stores. It seems this process is not particularly enjoyable for the female, who suffers significant damage from the ordeal. Although, researchers have seen males with chronically poor aim fire a mis-shot through a female’s brain, and the females still live to tell the tale. Who knew snail sex was such a messy and hazardous business!
Squid Adoration: More hearts = More love
If, when it comes to love it’s not the size of the heart that matters but the number, the squid definitely wins hands down. Yes, oddly enough the squid has three hearts – two which take blood to and from each of the gills, and a larger one which pumps blood around the rest of the body. In terms of reproduction, there’s not a whole lot of romance and the job is undertaken fairly matter-of-factly, although, deep sea squid are known for their exceptionally long penises. When erect, the penis can grow as long as the head, mantle and tentacles combined. “So in the words of Lionel Richie, when it comes to hearts, ‘she’s once, twice, three times a lady’, and when it comes to penises, ‘he’s once, twice…’”.
Anglerfish: “’til death do we part”
And our final candidate is one of the few truly monogamous creatures in nature, the Anglerfish. Interestingly, when scientists first started collecting samples of this alien-like deep sea fish, they couldn’t understand why they were only able to find females. Then they began to notice and unusual trend, that most of the specimens had small “parasites” attached to them, which later they found out to be the males – “insert inappropriate joke here”.
These deep sea fish live a life down in the depths of the oceans, too deep for even light to reach – although I think if they could see what each other looked like the survival of their species might be under threat. In order to find and keep a mate under these conditions, you need to have a trick or two up your sleeve. From birth, the males have a highly developed sense of smell which allows them to detect the proximity of any nearby females by identifying the pheromones she releases into the water. When he finds a mate, he bites down into her skin and latches on. As he bites, he simultaneously releases an enzyme which digests the tissues of his mouth and her body, causing the remaining flesh to fuse together. The male then slowly becomes completely dependent on the female for survival, first losing his digestive tract, then his brain, heart, and eyes, until he is nothing more than a pair of gonads – “there are just so many jokes to be made here it almost seems too easy”. The male will then continue to periodically release sperm into the female, initiating egg release and fertilisation. The pair will remain together until the death of the female, which unavoidably, also results in the death of her partner.
So when it comes to presents this Valentine’s, try showing your partner you really care with a personalised gift inspired by nature. Perhaps deliver them a garden snail in a box with the message, “you’re love dart, went straight to my heart”, or a cuddly stuffed Anglerfish that when you squeeze its belly says “I’ll stick to you like a parasitic male Anglerfish”.
“Ah, doesn’t it just make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside?”
Lovebirds and Love Darts: The Wild World of Mating; Reported in National Geographic News, by Hillary Mayell, 13 February 2004