Valentine's Day in the Animal Kingdom

by ZSL on

From the rockier relationships of the praying mantis to the lifelong dedication of some penguins, romance in the animal kingdom is alive and well. In celebration of Valentine’s Day we're delving into the wild, and often peculiar, love lives of animals.

Penguins with heart ice cube
Penguins build strong bonds that rely on trust, especially if they are to breed successfully. Couples take turns to brood their eggs and hunt for food which means having to trust that each other will return - a trust that must continue at least until the chicks have fledged. That said it is a myth that all penguins are entirely monogamous and DNA evidence of Antarctic penguins has shown that some can be promiscuous, possibly having affairs so as to improve the genetic diversity of the colony. However they will return to their bonded partner as they have already built up trust to raise young.

Sumatran tiger cubs Achilles and Karis
Monogamy is rare in the animal kingdom and wild tigers are no exception. Typically solitary animals, they will come together only to mate, finding one another through repetitive roars and other vocalisations as well as a distinctive scent spread by the female when she is in ‘heat’.  After uniting courting involves chuffing and body language like nuzzling, eventually leaving pregnant females to birth and raise their cubs entirely alone. It is a complex and important process to get right in captivity as tigers such as our lovely Sumatran tiger couple Melati and Jae Jae are Critically Endangered so breeding programmes need to be successful to safeguard a future for the subspecies.

Female praying mantis at ZSL London Zoo
Praying Mantis
Among the more lethal lovers of the animals kingdom is the praying mantis. Adult females may look beautiful but they are formidable predators that sometimes choose to dispose of their male counterparts after or even during mating. Males can pay a hefty price for reproduction as females have been known to pin their partner in place with her fast, sharp front legs, and then proceed to eat them! They are not alone, some spiders, snakes and other animals have a tendency to eat their partners in the reproduction process too!

Male big-bellied seahorse part of ZSL London Zoo's breeding programme
Fitting for one of the most planet’s most unusual animals, seahorse relationships are uniquely fascinating. A male will begin his quest for a partner by jostling with other males over dominance, competing for territory and in turn a chosen female. His success will mean he courts her next, changing colour, swimming around her and showing off an empty pouch to prove it is capable of holding many eggs. As, unusually, it is the male who gives birth this is very important!

Convinced, she’ll change colour too and possibly the most romantic wildlife of all, they’ll practice a mating dance, linking tails and stomachs in a heart shape and synchronising their swimming. They will then be ready for the real deal when the female passes as many as 250 eggs directly into the male's pouch where they will stay until he gives birth weeks later. The female will return to check in on him regularly and will even return to repeat the cycle until breeding season is over. Learn about ZSL's seahorse breeding programme.

Male lion Bhanu at ZSL London Zoo
Asiatic lions
Asiatic lions sleep up to 20 hours a day so you think they would not have a lot of time for mating…that is where you are wrong. When females are in oestrus (in ‘heat’) a male and female will mate for about 15 seconds and they can continue to mate every 15 minutes and up to 40 times a day for four days!

Critically endangered Vietnamese giant magnolia snail
Did you know that most land snails are hermaphrodites, meaning they have both male and female reproductive organs? That means they can fertilize, carry and lay their own eggs without the help of a partner. When courtship does happen however it is primarily involving their sense of smell and touch to detect and then inspect passing snails. After finding a willing snail they will mate for up to 12 hours!

Male peacock at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo
In the dating world of a peacock the length, width and colouration of the tail is important. The males put on a show, shaking their feathers to produce rattling sounds to start their courtship display whilst females examine feathers and chooses its partner.

Ring tailed lemurs are exclusive to Madagascar
Ring tailed lemurs
For lemurs the romance lies with the pongiest lemur. To win females the males will battle with other males…by having a stink fight! They use scent glands on their wrists to rub their scent all over their tails and then flick their tails to out stink other males for a mate!

Hatching Philippine crocodile at ZSL London Zoo
Communication is key in some crocs’ and alligators’ relationships. When courting they signal interest by a series of bellows and grunts followed by the males making the water vibrate so much it looks like the water is ‘dancing.’

Porcupine spotted on Instant Wild
Looking at these prickly creatures with quills sharp enough to kill a lion you most certainly will have to be careful when in the act of love. Very romantically the male urinates all over the female. She will then raise her tail (which is prick-free) and the male will carefully mount her. Despite all these obstacles, porcupines are monogamous, and pairs will maintain a small, exclusive territory within a larger home range.

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