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Pick-up tricks from the animal kingdom

  • Story Highlights
  • Mating rituals suggest Mother Nature has a sense of humor
  • Squids mate over and over for up to two weeks
  • Snails mating practices can be deadly for both partners
  • Bower birds build a big house to attract females
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By Loyd McIntosh
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Mental Floss

(Mental Floss) -- For all the critters in the rainforests, oceans and jungles of the world, finding a mate isn't as simple as spending hours in the gym developing rock-hard abs or adding a $10,000 stereo system to your 1984 Camaro. Nope.

Hippopotamus mating rituals are nasty.

Mother Nature has a few tricks up her sleeve for sorting out the biological stew that is planet Earth, which involves, among other things, about as many ways to reproduce as there are numbers of species. Some of them are practical; some of them are violent; some of them are downright sensitive. But others just make you think that Ms. Nature has a really strange sense of humor.

Bower Birds: While it's common for most male birds to attract females with elaborate visual signals --like peacocks, who fan their feathers for available chicks -- the bower birds of Australia and New Guinea take more of a Bob Vila approach to the practice.

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To attract a mate, male bower birds carefully craft elaborate structures, cleverly called bowers, which generally turn out more like love mansions than love shacks. These are no shoddy operations. Using everything from leaves, sticks and feathers to man-made items such as paper, cellophane and glass, these birds can construct shockingly sturdy tunnels, towers and archways. Some bowers include roofed bridges connecting two towers, while others have elaborately groomed lawns made from moss. But wait, ladies, that's not all. The really sensitive males will even "paint" the inner walls of the bower by chewing up berries and spreading them onto a leaf or twig to be used as a brush.

Once completed, the male calls out to any available females in the area, who, if impressed enough with the male's structure, will mate with him inside the bower. Interestingly though, the bower only serves to show off the male's strength and vigor. After the mating is over, he tosses it aside along with the girl's phone number.

Lynx Spiders: Every guy knows that the way to a woman's heart is through her stomach, and that's definitely true for female lynx spiders. When a male lynx is ready to mate, he'll capture an insect in his web and wrap it in silk. When he encounters a female he wishes to mate with, he offers her this juicy meal in a romantic courtship ritual. All that's missing is a bottle of Chianti and some Barry White tunes. The perfect date? Well, not exactly. Once the mood is just right, and the female seems distracted enough by her free meal, the male will mount his unsuspecting date and begin mating, as though the female is oblivious to his actions.

Hippopotami: The award for smelliest mating ritual goes to the hippopotamus. For a hippo, mating begins with the romantic act of marking your territory by urinating and defecating (at the same time, no less!), then twirling your tail like a propeller to spread the olfactory mess in every direction. While definitely disgusting to most humans (performance artists aside), potential mates are attracted to the display. When foreplay ensues, hippos engage in "playing" or splashing around in the water before settling down to get their groove on.

Snails: Forget S&M, fetishes and bondage. Whatever weird human sex act you've heard of, or imagined, or seen on the Internet, we guarantee it isn't as strange as snail sex! To start with, most snail species are hermaphrodites, meaning they carry both male and female sex organs, so things are getting kinky already.

The act of mating actually starts out pretty slow (which you'd probably expect from a snail). Potential mates may court from between 15 minutes to two hours, during which time they'll circle each other, touch tentacles, and bite each other. This act of "foreplay" also causes hydraulic pressure to build up in the sinuses and organs, which then allows both snails, almost without warning, to shoot a sharp, sperm-filled dart at each other. These darts can measure up to an inch-and-a-half long, and -- did we mention? --they're really sharp. If these little love arrows land anywhere on the snail's body, it can easily pierce a lung or a brain or a heart. Not surprisingly, in many cases, one or both snails are killed in the process.

If both mates happen to survive this bizarre act of stimulation, the two continue to mate until each has fertilized the other with its sperm. After that, each snail secretes a chemical onto its body (and eggs), which poisons its own sperm, ensuring fertilization from the other mate and not from itself. Because, quite honestly, that would just be weird.

Squid: According to some interesting recent research, the lowly squid has the kind of stamina that could put Sting to shame. Scientists at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, have uncovered the bizarre and intricate mating rituals of the deep water creature, and, once word gets out, the squid is certain to become the talk of the ocean.

Squid mating begins with a "circling nuptial dance," where teams of squid continuously circle around spawning beds in an area that can reach 200 meters across. At daybreak, the squid (or squids, whichever you prefer) begin to mate and continue all day long, halting the activity only long enough for the female to dive down and deposit her eggs. Once she comes back to the circling area, she reunites with her male companion and the process begins again. At dusk, the males and females go offshore to feed and rest. Then, at the first sight of sun, they head back to the spawning area and go at it again all day long. In fact, it's believed that the routine can last for up to two weeks, which undoubtedly results in some sore tentacles.

White-fronted Parrots: White-fronted parrots are something of an anomaly in the animal kingdom. For one thing, they may be the only species (besides humans) to engage in what is essentially the act of "kissing." Before mating, the male and female birds will lock beaks and gently flick their tongues together. If that goes well, the males will make the bold move for "second base," which involves regurgitating food for his mate in a generous show of affection. How sweet!

Native to Mexico and Central America, white-fronted parrots were also totally ahead of us with the whole "two-income marriage" deal. Along with various species of the albatross, penguin, ostrich and other large birds, white-fronted parrots generally lay a solitary egg, with both the male and the female taking turns incubating it. Once the chick hatches, both parents feed and otherwise care for the young bird. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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