12 Of The Most Bizarre Mating Rituals In Nature

Just be glad you're not a giraffe.

Dating can be tricky, which is probably why most of the animal kingdom avoids it. 

As far as evolution goes, if you reproduce, you win. 

Females definitely have the short end of the stick when it comes to mating. It takes a lot more energy and resources to create the egg cells. For many species, females also have to protect the eggs until they hatch or carry them inside them until they give birth, on top of potentially having to care for them after the fact as well.

Males, however, are able to make sperm quickly and easily.

Because of the time, energy, and resources the female will have to put into reproduction, she needs to be choosy about her mate, making sure that his genes will be worth her sacrifice. There's no use wasting time mating with a male who is small or unhealthy, as her offspring will be less likely to survive.

The pressures of sexual selection and the desire to reproduce can be tough, and have shaped some incredibly wild mating rituals.


1. Bonobos

Bonobos belong first on the list because they are some of the friskiest members of the animal kingdom. While most other animals have sex just to reproduce, it's a full-blown social activity for bonobos. 

These apes are nearly constantly in some kind of sexual activity, and even mothers with infants clinging to them still participate in just about every kind of sexual act you can think of.

There's no such thing as monogamy in these groups, and it isn't restricted to heterosexual relationships either. Sex is used to establish social rank and is even used as currency.

2. Bees

Despite "the birds and the bees" being used as a gentle metaphor for sex, bee reproduction is actually pretty graphic.

During copulation when the male is ready to inseminate the queen, its testicles totally explode, killing him.

Wondering how the heck this adaptation ever evolved?

Fertilization in insects is a little different than how it happens with humans. Once a female gets sperm from a male, they hang onto it until they're ready to lay their eggs. Males have the ability to reach inside the female there and scoop out the sperm of their competitors. 

Bees avoid this competition with their exploding testicles. This breaks the penis off inside the female, which seals off any chance of another male getting a mating with her.

That's some serious commitment. 

3. Giraffes

There are a number of factors that go into a female being ready to mate. There need to be enough resources for her to be able to carry a calf through 15 long months of pregnancy.

In order to find out if a female giraffe is ready to mate, a male will use his head and rub her backside until she pees. He then drinks the urine, finding out if she's in heat. 

If there are several multiple males vying for one female, they will fight over her by swinging their necks at one another. The victor is then able to mate with the female, if she's in the mood.

4. Birds of Paradise

While birds don't have the most graphic mating rituals compared to some of the others on this list, they do have some of the most fun ones. 

When a male Bird of Paradise wants to mate, he shows off his ornamental feathers and busts a serious move, dancing for a female.

The male bird's dance actually gives the female a lot of information about whether he'd be a suitable mate. In addition to being a feature that the ladies are sexually attracted to, the color and quality of the male's feathers give clues about his health.

While these birds are known for wowing the ladies with their incredible dance moves, it's not a natural skill. Males begin practicing when they are young so when they are old enough to begin mating, they are able to make a strong impression. If a female bird of paradise doesn't think the routine is smooth enough, she keeps on walking.

5. Red-Sided Garter Snake

When it's time for the red-sided garter snake to make, there's no messing around. 

A single female snake can be sought after by up to 100 males. Rather than line up in an orderly fashion for a chance at making their intentions known, things quickly get crazy with the formation of a "mating ball" in which everyone goes for it at once. 

Once she's done, the female will try rolling around in order to get the males off of her so she can make her escape. If the female isn't in good health, this sudden onset of attention can actually kill her.

6. Flatworms

Flatworms are hermaphrodites, meaning they possess both male and female reproductive organs. When it comes time to mate, it's a fight to see which one will take on which role. Because females have to dedicate time and resources to their young while the male can simply swim away afterward, being in the male role is clearly the most desirable. 

If a flatworm wants that role, they are going to need to fight for it. A mating pair will get in a duel with their penises, trying to stab the other one and inseminate them first. 

7. Bedbugs

Bed bug mating is no joke, and it's actually done through a process known as traumatic insemination. This cuts down on the amount of time they need to spend together, as males try to mate as often as they can.

The male grabs ahold of the female, stabs into a special place in her abdomen, and inseminates her. This is traumatic for the females' exoskeletons, but fortunately, they evolved and have adapted ways of minimizing the damage and protecting themselves.

Some male bedbugs can get a little too carried away and try to mate with other males. Sadly, they do not have the same adaptations as the females, and the trauma inflicted by the other male can be deadly.

8. Garden snails

Like flatworms, snails are hermaphrodites as well. One key difference, though, is that snails don't view mating as a contest: both parties end up getting stabbed and inseminated.

When snails come together to mate, they shoot the other with a "love dart" (an extremely sharp reproductive organ) located on their necks, providing the sperm to fertilize the other's eggs. 

If it sounds like stabbing each other's necks with knife-like organs is dangerous, it is. Over time, this can lead to decreased fertility and can even prove fatal.

9. Bowerbirds

Female bowerbirds aren't just impressed by a male's colorful feathers and rockin' dance moves, they want to see if he's handy, too.

Males use sticks to build a two-sided structure called a bower, which the female inspects to make sure it is well-constructed. To sweeten the deal, the males will typically use flowers, leaves, or even brightly-colored bits of plastic in order to decorate. He does everything he can to prove he'll be a good provider.

These females are highly choosy and won't hesitate to pass on a male who doesn't have the whole package.

10. Anglerfish

Anglerfish bring "being clingy" to crazy new levels. 

The anglerfish that everyone thinks of, with a bioluminescent antenna-like structure and the incredibly scary-looking teeth, is the female. Male anglerfish are much smaller and look very different.

Because these fish live in such remote depths of the ocean, it's hard to find one another for mating. When they do come across one another, they need to stick together... literally. The male bites the female and latches on. Over time, the two actually fuse together, connecting their circulatory systems.

The male, who isn't as good at finding food, gets his nutrition from the female. In turn, she is able to use his sperm when she wants to reproduce. Depending on the species of anglerfish, one female can have several males attached to her.

11. Clown Fish

When it comes to a group of clownfish, the largest is the female who is allowed to breed with the male, who is slightly smaller, but larger than the others. If something should happen to the female and she dies, that male transitions to be a female, and mates with the next largest fish.

To give this some Finding Nemo context, this means that after Coral died, Marlin should have transitioned to become female, and mated with Nemo when he was old enough.

Sorry about your ruined childhood.

12. Greater Sage Grouse

For the Greater Sage Grouse, the spring mating season means coming together from miles around to make a connection at a lek, which is essentially a field only used by the birds for this purpose.

In place of the highly skilled dances that other birds may do, a sage grouse attracts females and shows his prowess by strutting and inflating specialized air sacs on his chest. He also makes different sounds that are a mixture of vocalizations and friction from their chest feathers rubbing together (similar to a cricket chirping by rubbing its legs).

Cover image: Shutterstock


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