If you think humans have the market cornered on kinky, think again. Nature is amazingly diverse, and the ways that some animals have learned to attract mates and reproduce are downright weird. The snuggling elephants pictured above are cute, but the rituals below are by turns strange, violent, gross and fascinating. Read on to see how wildlife gets it on.
The Penis Fence
It must be weird to be a flatworm. Some species of these aquatic invertebrates are hermaphroditic, which means they’re capable of being either the mother or father to their offspring. So how do they figure it out? With a good old fashioned fight — with their two penises (which are also used as hunting implements when it’s not mating season). Yes, in an act scientists have dubbed “penis fencing,” the worms joust with their junk until one successfully impregnates the other, officially making that one the “mother.” Yikes.
Photo credit: Nico Michiels
The Hippo Helicopter
The “hippo helicopter” is so much worse than it sounds. Despite their big teeth, hippopotami are sort of cute and snuggly, right? Well, not when they’re mating. Evidently, competition for females is fierce, so the males have to go the extra mile to attract their mates. How does the male do this? By simultaneously defecating and urinating while spinning his tail like a rotor, flinging the mixture far and wide. Apparently the females love this sexy display. Although I guess it’s better than the giraffe ritual of tasting urine.
Photo credit: Shutterstock.com
The Snake Ball
If the phrase “snake ball” isn’t enough to freak you out, then buckle up. The female Red-Sided Garter Snake is really into orgies. Pre-mating season, these reptiles hibernate in huge groups — sometimes up to 30,000 snakes (just imagine that for a second). When they wake up ready to mate, the male snakes (each with two penises) go for the lone female all at once, forming what The Frisky describes as a “a large, rollicking, disgusting SNAKE BALL.” Best advice: stay out of its way. Unless, you know, you’re in Manitoba at the annual garter snake mating tourist attraction. Or you’re the unfortunate person who accidentally built his house on top of a snake pit. Oops. (It’s still for sale if you’re interested.)
Photo credit: Shutterstock.com
In the animal world, it’s not wholly uncommon for mating to kill the male of the species, particularly where insects and arachnids are concerned. But in those cases, it’s usually the female who’s responsible for murdering her mate. The story is a little different for the brown antechinus, which Cracked describes as a “master man whore.” When mating season hits for this Australian marsupial, he never stops having sex. He goes for as many females as possible — sometimes for up to 12 hours — forgoing basic comforts like eating or sleeping. All the action takes its toll; by the end of mating season he’s left “with a suppressed immune system, severe ulcers and at the mercy of parasites.” And then he dies. Not exactly a happy ending.
Photo credit: Greg Schechter
The Love Dart
Anyone else hear the theme from “The Love Boat” when you read the phrase “the love dart?” Just me? Anyway, like flatworms, snails are hermaphrodites, and therefore have had to come up with an, ahem, unique way to procreate. Again, like flatworms, it’s a little violent, but that’s where the similarities stop. Unlike penis fencing, when snails mate, one will punch the other in the neck with a calcified spike called a “love dart.” This makes only slightly more sense when you learn that snail genitals are on their necks. The love darts contain sperm, and are supposed to penetrate the snails’ neck uteruses. This means one or both snails could ooze away from the encounter pregnant, assuming they don’t get killed in the process — apparently snails are really bad shots.
Photo credit: Shutterstock.com
The Fish Lump
Let’s just take a moment to be thankful we aren’t anglerfish, because these stunningly attractive creatures have one of the worst mating rituals in the world, for both sexes. Male anglerfish are born without a digestive system, so in order to survive, they must immediately attach themselves to a female after hatching. They do this by biting her and releasing an enzyme that fuses the two together. Forever. Eventually, the male’s “brain, eyes and organs dissolve until he turns into a small lump,” with only his sexual organs remaining. When the female is ready to reproduce, sperm is released from the “lump” and the female is fertilized. Oh, and she can carry up to six of these reproducing lumps at a time. Talk about a freeloading boyfriend who just. Won’t. Leave.
Photo credit: Gary Robson
The Larvae Bullet
Sure, freshwater mussels seem relatively harmless. After all they don’t even have eyes. But tell that to the fish who are victims of the mussels’ parasitic mating habits. Mussel mating starts out normal enough: the males release sperm into the water, and females catch it, then hatch their larvae inside their shells. And that’s when things take a more menacing turn. Mussel larvae need fish to grow. So, according to Care2, “To lure fish, mother mussels wave appendages that look like worms, crayfish or other bait. Some emit a smell of rotting flesh to attract scavenger fish. When fish approach, the mussels shoot the larvae onto the fish.” The larvae attach themselves and hang out until they mature. Now we have two reasons to be glad we aren’t fish.
The Tasty Goo
I know what you’re thinking, but this one is actually less gross than it sounds. Kind of. The tree cricket mating ritual starts out okay: the male bites holes in leaves, creating an amplifier for his mating cry and attracting females (who have big appetites. This is important). Mating itself is fairly straightforward, except for one small problem: the male sperm packet is larger than the female’s cavity, so a chunk of it hangs out. And remember the female appetite? Apparently she views this exposed packet as a tasty snack, and will attempt to eat it before fertilization can occur. Eek. To distract her, “the male sings and secretes a tasty goo from his back, feeding her until the eggs are fertilized.” Aw, that’s actually kinda sweet.
Photo credit: gbohne
The Mating Chain
What is the deal with the hermaphrodite invertebrates and their kinky mating rituals? We’ve talked flatworms and snails; now we can add the sea hare (a kind of sea slug) to the list. It seems that when sea hares mate, they don’t do it boring pairs — they do it in chains and rings! Thanks to the fact that they have both male and female genitalia, they can handily switch sexes depending on the partner behind them. Apparently, “usually in dense populations or in crowded aquariums, they form mating chains of three or more animals, the one at the front acting solely as a female and the one at the rear solely as a male. The animal(s) in between are acting as both males and females.” That’s…efficient.
Photo credit: PedroPVZ
The Lasso Penis
The Argentine lake duck isn’t a large bird, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in, uh, size, if you get my drift. Yep, this little duck has the longest penis of any bird in the world, generally anywhere from 9 to 17 inches. As if that weren’t impressive enough, it’s also corkscrew-shaped (female ducks also have corkscrew-shaped genitalia, though it curls in the opposite direction), and has a brush-shaped tip, which is used to remove sperm deposited by other males. Why would that even be necessary? Because the ducks are easy (of course). Neatorama explains, “the ducks are promiscuous, and the long penis may be an evolutionary adaptation for the males to become more attractive to the females. That, and the drake also uses his penis to ‘lasso’ a female who tries to escape from it.” Giddyup.
Photo credit: Georg Schwalbach
There you go: ten techniques that pretty much put whips and handcuffs to shame. But hey, who am I to criticize? These methods obviously work, since all of these animals are still thriving. I’m just glad I’m not a fish…or a hippo.