V i v i a n  S o n g
Freelance writer
Freelance writer
Nature's foreplay

Toronto Sun, Sun Media papers, February, 2009.

They engage in animal sex, driven wild by the intoxicating smell of their partners.

Some try to seduce their lover with the promise of a beautiful home, while other males try to woo their lady friends with a flashy lightshow before dinner.

For the unfortunate few who fail to impress, some males become dinner.

To celebrate Valentine's Day weekend, Green Planet takes a look at some of the sweet, curious, funny and downright freakish courting rituals in the animal kingdom, notwithstanding the fanatical grooming, coy eye contact and mirroring of gestures that happen among human kind.

Here are a few highlights, courtesy of the National Wildlife Federation.

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MOTHS

Hoo ah!

A quick ode to the Al Pacino movie Scent of a Woman about a blind old curmudgeon with an uncanny nose for women.

Careful boys. Like a moth to a flame, burned by the fire, your lady friend may not be what she seems.

Female moths release a pheromone in the air that drives males wild with desire. They detect the irresistible love potion with their fuzzy, sensitive antennae. A single female moth can lure dozens of males. But, like the firefly, the bolas spider, has figured out how to mimic the pheromones of certain moths and is able to lure smitten, unsuspecting males looking for nookie to their untimely -- and unconsummated -- deaths.

FIREFLY

Come on baby light my fire

Not all that glitters is gold for male fireflies.

Male fireflies try to woo their ladies with a lightshow, flashing themselves in the hopes that a female hidden in the vegetation will flash back and answer his mating call.

But one clever species of firefly has learned to mimic her female cousin's lightshow. When the hopeful male shows up to consummate their relationship, she proceeds to eat him.

Once satiated, she then goes on to satisfy the other primal craving with a male of her own species.

Lesson: Be careful who you flash or she'll eat you alive.

BOWER BIRD

He's made yourbed. Now lie in it. Please.

In human terms, you could call the bower bird the Mike Holmes of the winged kingdom. Alternatively, you could call it the "Colin and Justin" of the bird world. Not convinced because one of them is an alpha male who wears overalls shirtless, while the other pair is an HGTV gay couple with an impeccable sense of home decor style? Read on.

The bower bird attracts the ladies by building a home for her. He'll build a stick structure, or bower, to impress the girls. Often he'll use a monochromatic colour scheme, and will use everything from shells, feathers, flowers, plastic and bits of string. In what's a bit like an open house, the ladies swing by and decide if they like the house that bower bird built.

CUTTLEFISH

Love down under

The Australian cuttlefish is a slippery one. While it doesn't change sex, the male cuttlefish can disguise itself as a female by changing his colour and shape. He'll do this to trick the bigger, buffer males who are likely to bully him away from their broads. Females don't mind the stealth and will mate happily with the underdog, perhaps appreciating the smaller guy's smarts.

Think football player, versus the brainy, physically underdeveloped president of the chess club in high school.

APHIDS

Single in the city

Talk about independent women. Some species of females are so self-sufficient they don't need a male partner and can reproduce themselves. Like the virgin Mary, the virgin aphid -- also known as plant lice, or tiny plant-eating insects -- will reproduce by simply cloning herself, producing eggs via cell division. Without sex, there's no exchange of genetic information and the resulting offspring are genetically identical to the mother. The aphid can reproduce thousands of little aphids this way. Likewise, for some bee species, the queen bee can produce different kinds offspring: Fertilized eggs hatch as females, while the unfertilized eggs hatch as males.

FISH

Transgender love

In the marine world, gender is interchangeable. Fish live together in polygamist harems, where the top kahuna enjoys the company of either all male or all female sex slaves. If, however, "the big one" is eaten by a predator leaving the group all male or all female, the next fish largest in line will change its sex so the group maintains a mating partner. Kind of like going home with Nicole and finding out it's short for Nick.

 

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