Courtship “Weapons”

Catalina Toma

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“He that would win his dame must do / As love does when he draws his bow; / With one hand thrust the lady from, / And with the other pull her home.”(Samuel Butler) – An advice you should perhaps follow gentlemen! After all think of how many endeavors a man does in order to get the attention and trigger some emotions in the woman he happens to find attractive! For sure at times numerous endeavors, not all of them worth as many of these men will sometimes admit it; they are capable of building the whole court for you, a castle, a yard, a barn and everything needed just to conquer your heart. Do these men display just the right amount of creativity? If you tend to think that a nice perfume, a good haircut, the best shirt, some gifts, a good music and of course some flowers are clearly indicators of an excellent manipulation of courtship techniques and if you think that we are the ones who have patented all these courtship strategies then you should perhaps think twice.

When I say this I clearly have in mind the animal kingdom. They clearly have on their mind what many would label as the “perpetuation of species dictum”. No matter the “weapons” they make use of, they have to achieve their goal. And amazingly enough they do achieve it by making use of all theirs senses, of beauty, intricate dancing movements, smells, violence and many other such things as well. And sometimes it can be a real challenge for one to watch all this rather intricate behavior, the courtship masque as I shall refer to it.

If only you’d follow me into their world I’d show you or better said they would show you what intricate, complicated movements they use and I promise you’d have just a great time doing this. After all is there anything you wish to do other than joining them in their dances, looking in the mirror along with them as they are grooming themselves to look more attractive to the females from their species, listening to their songs or calls? You’d probably say that there are just a million other things you could do but I’d say in return that even so, you should surrender for just a few minutes and take it as a show, a spectacle, one that would clearly make you smile and one that you will find interesting too: a courtship of love (at times a violent, weird love as you will see).

So, shall we put on the masque of courtship? Have you ever been interested in finding out how they do it, how animals manage to get the attention of their mating partners, what movements they use, what cosmetics, what sexual orientation they happen to have or perhaps if they prefer being faithful or rather keep a harem? Or perhaps you are only interested in finding out the raw models in the animal world. If any of these things managed to arouse your interest then I am just about to sketch some sort of an animal courtship portrayal for you. Stay close!

Talking about cosmetics I shall not fail to refer to the colors animals choose to display in front of their loved ones. Talking about colors on the top of the list one should perhaps place the flamingo bird. Did you know that flamingo birds simply put on their best color when it comes to letting themselves conquered and conquer? Rumors say that flamingos posses the somehow bizarre ability to beautify or better said enhance the color of their feathers just to seem better looking in the eyes of their partners or future partners as some would put it. Much like women use to redden their lips and their nails in order to appear more attractive in the eyes of men, so do flamingos by choosing to make use of some pigments in order to appear more attractive and as such be able to find an appropriate mate.

The saying according to which “beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder” applies to the world of animals as well, given the fact that they too heavily rely on the visual part in the serious job of finding the right, suitable mate. And believe me the examples are quite numerous! When I say this I most certainly think about peacocks and their magnificent display of colors, colors which we happen to crave for from time to time. And so do these birds as they happen to find them attractive; but since it is all just a matter of taste, this would not be the only ingredient needed. How about taking a close look at the birds constant preening as if they just wanted to make sure that no hair was out of place and that their feathers will never loose their shimmering? Do I hear bells ringing? Once you have looked at the bird taking care of its feathers take a look at the man close to you and just notice the way he fixes his hair carefully in the morning. Is there any resemblance?

After all you know genes are pretty important and as such they have to be good ones, don’t they?

Talking about best plumage colors there is no way I could fail to mention the male birds of paradise. Competition seems to be the master word in their courtship endeavors. As such males use to gather in a certain area (some sort of a males fair, I dare say), an area called lek, and it is here that they will wait to be chosen. And if you imagine that they all stand lined there without doing anything then evidences prove that you are most certainly wrong. I’d say that they do “nothing” in a beautiful way, meaning that they somehow put on their best clothes and by clothes I mean spectacular, ravishing feathers and they do this after having chosen one favorite perch to stand on. There can be numerous males gathered together and they all compete with each other in getting the attention of female birds of paradise. As the fair comparison seems to be the best to me, much like a car fair, females simply visit these male fairs and choose what’s best or what they envisage as being the best offer. Of course the most successful one among them will occupy the best perch and will be surrounded by most females. Just imagine what an ego this male happens to have in those moments! But even so, it has been discovered that weird or not Superb Birds of paradise happen to have a higher number of females and as such these ones can afford to be quite finicky or perhaps I should use the words choosy, persnickety. As such, males are most probably already used to being refused, don’t you think so? And things are more complicated than this in their courtship ritual but as I was referring to the visual part, the beauty part if I may say so, I prefer exhausting this subject before going on to the next “weapon” on my list.

Keeping on to the visual part how about referring to such birds like the egret? If you ever happened to see an egret you know what I am talking about; accidentally or not, they happen to display a very beautiful plumage and this occurs even more during the breeding season when they just make up their mind and put on their best feathers, at times resembled to lace, a plumage which specialists call aigrettes. And this entire lace thing just to look more attractive in the eyes of their partners, isn’t this simply amazing?

And there is no way I could not mention here the so called frigatebirds. If only you’d see these birds you would know what I am talking about. The males of this species are the proud carriers of a throat sac which they can inflate (it takes them some time to do this – about twenty minutes as some say), and by doing this they display in front of their potential partner a red, heart- shaped balloon. After he manages to do this he calls for females to come and see how proud he is and how handsome he is. This time size and brightness prove to be of extreme importance. Amazingly enough it has been reported that while having sex these males simply cover his partner’s eyes with his wings just to keep her from being distracted by the balloons displayed by other males. A sweet thing to do!

So is the visual part involving the idea that watching porn movies may help giant pandas to perpetuate their species at a higher level (Not sweet anymore, but interesting). You must think I am crazy, yet even so according to a Breeding and Research Base from China it looks like this kind of movies stimulate them to make love or to improve the art of making love. It is still not clear to me which one is it in their case!

How many times did you play a game called flirt? And if you did have you ever thought about making use of some flash lanterns? I have to admit that it can be quite a game, a funny one too! Even more amazing is the fact that not only people can use light to get the attention of their partners or the person they happen to like but fireflies too. As darkness is their home, once the so called partner hunting started they have to use some tricks to be noticed by a possible mate. As such they make full use of flashes of light. Usually males are the ones starting this game and of course females, if interested only, will respond using the same “light weapon”. Amazingly enough some species are even capable of playing with light and making use of various colors and shades. Does this make them some sort of nature artists or better said courtship artists? To a certain extent it does, at least this is my opinion.

Even so, sight is not the only sense being used when deciding upon what genes to “use”. Much like us, animals rely quite heavily I’d say on sounds as well. No wonder they do this since words can be worth millions of other things or should I say calls in their case? I tend to believe that if only we were capable of deciphering their language we would be left “bouche bee” as the French would normally say or mouth opened as the Englishman would say. What is there that they are telling each other when emitting such sounds as “moo”, “meow” or whatever else? Most surely these sounds are also meant to attract the attention of their potential mates as well. Saying Hello, what do you do, how nice you look today can be of crucial importance, don’t you think so?

How about the serenades birds use to perform for their mates and for us too? Of course the so called singing gift can be as well used to mark the territory but most certainly it is used to conquer the attention of the potential mates as well. Let’s take for example the South American songbird, birds which as their name suggests it use to sing for some attention, better said to attract females. And what better way to make them faint at their feet if not by making full use of their feathers which amazingly enough release some violin-like sounds. Music to my ears as some would say! As such one could openly compare this bird’s feathers to some sort of a philharmonic, an amazing one too.

Talking about the language of love I cannot fail mentioning the humpback whales; it has been discovered that the males from this species actually sing to the “girl” of their dreams. To many of you all those chirps and hums they apparently use may not sound like a song but believe me they are. Things are not that simple as competition is to be again brought into discussion in their case too. Males will display their vocal qualities to their best, competing in tunes with the other males. I find this amazingly interesting and even more amazing is the fact that if they wish to get closer to the girls of their dream they will do just this; as such one female may end up being courted and much more even surrounded by neither more nor less than eight males. Just try to picture this image in your mind and you will end up smiling. I just cannot keep myself from wondering how that female feels. Is she happy with so much affection coming all at once? Who knows!

Talking about the singing abilities and voice in particular amazingly enough science people managed to find out that in the case of the cute giant pandas one can speak of masculine and feminine voices. And as a spicy detail it has also been discovered that by making use of such sounds as chirps, chomps and snorts female giant pandas can let one know her age. I know it is said one should never ask a lady her age but these females don’t seem to carry too much about this. And evidences show that they clearly have no reasons to worry about age, especially because the older they happen to be, as such more experienced, the more suitors she will have. Now if you happen to be craving for a male in your life, and you seem to have lost any hope, wouldn’t you wish to be a giant panda female? They probably do not have any wrinkles when getting older, don’t you think so?

Even though bats may not be on your list of favorite animals or animals which you may happen to find cute, they are nevertheless interesting when it comes to the language of love they use to conquer one another. It has been discovered that Mexican free-tailed bats make use of a whole repertoire of love songs in order to attract females and to keep any other possible suitors away from their girls. If you though that we are the only ones using the general term of love then most certainly you are wrong since these Mexican free-tailed bats appear to be using the same “word” for love, no matter the area they inhabit. Amazing, isn’t it?

The language of love may prove to be quite noisy at times. This is the case of grasshoppers too. Setting one’s cap for a certain partner they try to impress it by singing to her. Amazingly enough they have a song for each situation. Well prepared they have learned the lesson of flirting and that of mating as well and as such they have a flirting song and a mating one too. It has been discovered that they have quite a vast repertoire made up of almost 400 different songs.

How about the so called Madagascar Hissing Cockroach? Did you think that he makes use of its hissing only to defend its territory? He does use it for this too, but also for entrapping its mate. And females seem to find it quite pleasing too, I dare to say even fascinating. It looks like this hissing makes them even more attracting in their eyes. I say this because scientists managed to discover that when turned to silence in labs they turned themselves into “negligible quantity” as I prefer calling it, remaining outside the mating ritual.

But as too many sounds may harm one and from time to time we happen to need some silence I shall now move on to a somehow more pleasant sense, namely touch. Which are the animals which predominantly make use of touch and taste at the same time to discover each other? The answer to this question includes such animals as fishes, snails, insects and of course salamanders. Did you know that snails happen to be hermaphrodites, meaning a snail has been endowed by Mother Nature with both male and female reproductive organs? I guess you did know this. Most often snail will embark upon some sort of a marathon of touching and tasting each other, a marathon which can sometimes last for even six whole hours. Is this a long time or a short time for you? How about starting a prelude taking so long?

When it comes to salamanders, it has been discovered that the so called female tiger salamander heavily relies on touch when it comes to the mating ritual. As such the female shows her availability by touching the male on its tail with her noise. Just imagine how this would look in the world of humans. Quite a funny image, isn’t it so? If you only knew the reason the female salamander does this you would probably stop smiling! Did I manage to get you curious? This touch is all the male appears to need in order to make him release a package of his sperms which later on the female will simply grab and insert into her genital organ. Even so, another male, a cunning one if you ask me, can hurry up and place his sperm on the top of the previous one and as such the female will take this one, not knowing that in fact it did not belong to her previously chosen mate. Quite a story, don’t you think so?

So is the following one which this time has as main characters the white-fronted parrots, a species of parrots which are native to Mexico and Central America. If you tended to think that we are the only ones practicing French kissing then these birds were invented to prove that you are wrong. Just before making up their mind to go on with the mating thing, the male and female of this species get engaged into what resembles to a great extent a kiss, not only a mere touching of their beaks but involving also a touching of their tongues as well, some sort of a blending of their tongues. And I have to warn you that after doing this they do something that to many of you may look disgusting: if they happen to like the kiss the male shows its satisfaction by regurgitating his food for his beloved partner. Quite disgusting but at the same time nevertheless amazing, don’t you think so?

When it comes to touch alligators too make use of quite a complicated array of courtship strategies. You may find it interesting to watch them carrying on rather intricate “conversations”, blowing bubbles in the water or simply touching their bodies. Quite ferocious, yet sensitive when it comes to mating, don’t you think so?

How about bringing her some flowers? Oh, this is not the case of animals but even so the smallest gift, whether it is about a stone or a beautifully arranged nest, does matter too! When I mentioned stones I clearly had the so called Adelie penguins in my mind. Yet, when referring to interior designs of nests I was referring to the male weaverbird. He takes all its time to welcome the woman in a nicely arranged nest. This male bird can certainly be declared the designer of the year in the world of birds, a very talented one too since it looks like he possesses the ability to mach colors and will not create kitsch but rather a real work of art. As such he brings to his nest all sort of flowers, feathers, shells, plastic he manages to find in his surroundings and apparently he has a predilection for whatever is blue. And he does all this in order to impress the female and determine her to settle in for the next season. Females just come to inspect the places and it is up to them to decide whether they unpack or continue to inspect other nests as well. Clearly what women look for is security and some of them can certainly prove to be quite materialists to, don’t they? Rumors say that apart from the criteria of beauty females also test the solidity of these nests and that if they prove not to be strong enough then she will move on to the next male on her list. How mean women can be at times! Oh, I was talking about birds! I forgot!

Of course much like women tend to walk and move their hips in a certain way letting men fall into the trap of “to go or not to go for her” so do animals. I am referring here to the many rather intricate dances some animals and birds perform in front of their potential mate, all of these dances being meant to scream for attention. I shall start by mentioning the magnificent dance of the weedy sea dragon. If you happen to be on the coast of Australia then you probably know what I am talking about. It is quite a show to watch this dance, a dance being the very emblem of grace and beauty. This dance is usually referred to in terms of “mirror dance”, mainly because the male and the female simply seem to be imitating each others movements. I consider this to be simply an amazing courtship ritual. The partners simply mirror the movements of the other, either swimming or twisting their bodies. This rather intricate dance gets to be even more amazing since it takes place in the rather faded evening light. All they may need could be some candles or perhaps some good music!

Another dance, this time one that unfortunately can lead to death takes place in the case of the Australian redback spiders. These spiders undergo a long process and do numerous efforts just to mate: first they have to perform a long dance, a dance in which weird enough he weaves his web with the ones of his partner as if trying to become one and after that he starts beating her on the abdomen as if she were some sort of a drum. Quite a hard task for him to do and a lot of patience needed since he has to do this for neither more nor less than 100 minutes. If they lose their patience then they may as well literally lose their head. No matter the case even if he manages to perform this dance up to the end of it, this represents no guarantee that he will get to mate with the female. Even so, they risk getting banged, with the price of their lives. Is this really a worthy cause to lose your life for? To them it is!

Booby Courtship Dance

Dancing is not strange to squids either as they too seem to have included it into their courtship or better said mating rituals. Are you interested in finding out which other birds engage in amazing mating dances? The list will include such animals as the emus, the manakin bird, the kakapo, the so called blue footed booby, the bird of paradise mating dance and of course the ostrich’s mating dance. You should look up for these dances in order to convince yourself!

When it comes to weird mating rituals one should not fail to mention the hippopotamus, the porcupines, the so called bed bug, the Tasmanian devils, the bees, Argonauts and even snails, and probably the list can continue. I shall begin by mentioning the showers of urine that female porcupines accept from their mating partners, getting all soaked in urine (they seem to love it and so do males belonging to this species. You do not want to see my face as I am writing this!!). Even so, there may be some cases in which the female seems not to accept the partner and as such if this happens she may react either by using various sounds (she must be screaming at the daring male), by hitting him with the front paws, of course by trying to get all that urine off of her and at times even by using violence and biting the poor guy. Isn’t this just nice? And now since I talked about urine I shall continue with the so called aromatherapy and extend it in the case of hippos. In order to court their partners, female partners, males simply defecate in the water and after that simply splash all those feces in the face of its beloved partner. Now thank God that you are not a female hippo!

But after all perhaps you should not wonder why these animals do this and even more happen to find it attractive! While searching for information about this world of rather intricate mating rituals in the animal world I managed to come across some ancient courtship rituals men used to perform. As such I must share one such ritual with you: How does spitting in your partner’s face sound to you, just to manifest your love and convince him to get into bed with you or just to say hello to him?  It looks like women from Amazonian tribes did just this.

Most surely you expected some violence too and here it comes! The Tasmanian devil seems to love it and as such males engage in all sorts of combats, coming out pretty injured. They do all this just to impress females since evidences have proven that these females find intriguing such things as physical strength and good bites (I’d add). I’d call this tough love, how would you call it?

Since almost all mating lessons or discussions start with the example of bees I have to mention them too. What does a virgin queen bee do? Well, she is followed in her flight by thousands of drones, bachelor ones. Unfortunately for them, they manage to mate with her, but they end up in the heaven of insects (if such a thing actually exists, of course). How come this happens, you may wonder. During the mating process, their genitals simply blow up inside the queen. What a cruel fate these poor drones have!

As far as Argonauts are concerned, male Argonauts, the situation is even weirder since these ones simply detach their “penis” and let it float towards the female. Quite a funny image to try picture in your mind, isn’t it so?

The so called bed bug does nothing but stab the female in her abdomen and inject his sperm. Quite a horrendous experience don’t you think so? It sounds more like rape than like actual love to me. Scientists call this “traumatic insemination”.

How about shooting some sperm darts at each other? Does this sound attractive to you? If it doesn’t then most surely snails find it interesting as this is what they actually do, and all this with the clear purpose of fertilization. Unfortunately some of them die in this so called “getting fertilized game”.

Do you happen to be a great amateur of orgies? So do garter snakes! Females may end up being all covered by hundreds of males being attracted onto her due to the pheromones she releases. What else could she wish for than being “ridden” by hundreds of males?

After all she may feel happy, who knows!

When it comes to fidelity, this concept remains unknown to many of the animals carrying on with their lives out there in the animal kingdom. And just to convince you of this I have to mention few unfaithful animals. First there is the bonobo that simply loves to spend its time having sex. It is probably them that invented making –up sex or food sex (you may have never heard of this one, yet it exists in their case) or whatever sex you can think of. As such they do not know the concept of fidelity. Then there are the sea lions. These ones practice some sort of life in the harem. A male will simply wait for the females to come and he will take them all (why refusing you may ask). Then there is the so called Jacana bird. In their case females clearly live their lives to their best. They engage in sexual intercourses with as many males as possible. They have been labeled by scientists as being polyandrous.

Even so, when it comes to fidelity, clearly the albatross is a raw model. These birds came to be known as monogamous birds. So, you see, everything is possible! So are mute swans and there may be others as well claiming to be monogamous but they may have stepped outside their “marriage” once or twice.

There may be not so much poetry in the mating ritual but there certainly is some left for the courtship one. Not only in our case but also in the case of animals! As such I shall now end by removing what I called the masque of courtship in the beginning. And what better way to do this if not in a poetic manner, by quoting Shakespeare? “If she do frown, ‘tis not in hate of you, / But rather to beget more love in you: / If she do chide, ‘tis not to have you gone; / For why, the fools are mad if left alone. / Take no repulse, whatever she doth say; / For—get you gone—she doth not mean—away.”11

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