9 of the Most Bizarre Animal Mating Habits

Learn about wild antics, strange body parts, and risking life for love.

A Western Bowerbird (Chlamydera guttata) in Central Australia.
TED MEAD / Getty Images

Animals that don't mate won't pass on their genes. This biological imperative leads to an incredibly diverse world of reproductive strategies. For many creatures, mating is fraught with perils and deceptions. Some animals perform wild antics to impress their mates, while others are born with odd ornamental body parts. Others risk being eaten, often by the very animal they're trying to mate with.

Here are nine of the most bizarre animal mating habits found in nature.

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two flatworms preparing for penis fencing

Nico Michiels / Wikimedia / CC BY 2.5

Because flatworms are hermaphroditic, capable of being the male or female during sexual reproduction, the first rule in mating for any pair of these lovers is to decide who plays what role. To settle it, they engage in an activity is called "penis fencing," which is pretty much what it sounds like. Using their penises as swords, the two flatworms battle it out to see who can inseminate the other first, which is accomplished by stabbing the other in the underside. The loser ends up being responsible for the laying and caring of the eggs, which is a considerable burden on the flatworm.

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A male satin bowerbird next to his bower decorated with blue pieces of plastic

Samuel Moore / Getty Images 

Male bowerbirds are the ultimate home designers of the animal kingdom. To attract a mate, they build elaborate, colorful shrines called bowers. The bowers are often decorated with bright objects, which vary depending on the species. Bowers have been built with anything from flowers, berries, and seashells, to plastic beads and bottle caps, coins, broken glass, or even rifle shells. Male great bowerbirds even use forced perspective to make the bower look grander.

A female then chooses her mate based on his artistic prowess. Because females can be quite picky, males have to step up their game, sometimes stealing decorations from other bowers. Successful males then tidy up the bower and reuse it to lure another female.

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Water striders

pair of water striders using surface tension during mating

Markus Gayda / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Water striders are best known for their ability to walk on water, but their sex lives might be what truly sets them apart. Male water striders go directly for mating rather than attempting to court a female partner. The female does have some say in the matter, as she has a genital shield that she can use to prevent penetration.

To coerce the female, male water striders tap their legs against the water's surface in a pattern that lures predatory fish. Scientists speculate the risky behavior encourages the female to mate quickly, as she knows that she'll be the first to get eaten if a fish appears. This is why the females try to stay as far away from the males as they can.

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two porcupines in a tree

Mattnad / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Porcupine mating is a hodgepodge of odd rituals. The female has a window of eight to 12 hours when she's fertile. She advertises her availability by spraying a perfume that is a combination of urine and vaginal mucous. This musk is combined with a mating call that sounds similar to a screaming cat.

The female selects a mate, attracted by his size and density of quills as indicators of health and vigor, who then guards the base of the tree that she climbs—sometimes for as long as three days. He is expected to fend off potential rivals in a "grueling marathon" of sorts. Other male porcupines gather and proceed to fight for the right to mate. This involves the males losing some of their quills and can lead to their deaths.

The winning male, which could have a hundred or more quills in his face at this point, then approaches the female on his hind legs while grunting. He sprays her face and body with a thick stream of urine. She responds to this by exposing her genital area, which is free of quills. They then mate. When the female is done with the male, she heads to another tree and screams at him again.

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Red-capped manakin

Red-capped Manakin (Ceratopipra mentalis) a black bird with red head and yellow legs

Juan Carlos Vindas / Getty Images

The striking male red-capped manakin has earned the title of the moonwalking bird because of its impressive courtship dance. Males gather in a group called a lek. Interested females stop in to choose a mate. The male then begins an elaborate courtship dance that has him sliding up and down a branch. They accompany this with a beatbox compilation of whirrs, clicks, and snaps from wing and tail feather movements.

There are roughly 60 subspecies of manakin, all of which engage in uniquely elaborate courtships antics and displays. It has been suggested that because the birds live in tropical regions with an abundance of fruit for food, only one parent is needed to raise the young. The father is freed up to pursue more females, and thus needs to up the ante on his attraction techniques, making the most of his "freedom to mate with many females, while at the same time competing against rival birds."

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Hooded Seals

Hooded Seal, cystophora cristata, Male standing on Ice Floe, The hood and membrane are used for aggression display when threatened and as a warning during the breeding season, Magdalena Island in Quebec, Canada
slowmotiongli / Getty Images

Female hooded seals have some unusual mate preferences: they're attracted to males with the best-looking nasal balloons. These are part of the nasal hood bladders that give the seals their name. Male hooded seals have specialized pinkish-red nasal cavities that they inflate to intimidate other males and attract a female.

To get a female's attention, the male blows up his balloon, which stretches across his face, and waves it around. The hooded seal is listed as a vulnerable species by IUCN. Major threats are hunting, loss of ice packs, and commercial fishing.

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Praying Mantises

praying mantises mating in thick shrubbery

Ben / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

Male praying mantises are at risk of sexual cannibalism. If a female mantis is hungry during mating, she'll start eating the male's head, followed by the rest of him. His body will continue copulating with the female even after she has devoured his head. This actually increases the fervor in the male since his inhibition is gone with his head.

This cannibalism benefits both the male and the female. She gets a meal out of it, and the nutrition helps ensure the male's genes are passed onto the next generation. Sometimes the male is able to mate without becoming a meal; somewhere between 13% and 28% of sexual encounters turn deadly.

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translucent anglerfish with two parasitic males on back

Dr Clive Bromhall / Oxford Scientific / Getty Images Plus

When scientists first started capturing anglerfish to study, they were baffled at why all the specimens were female. Though the males were nowhere to be found, female anglerfish were rarely discovered alone. Many came with tiny parasites attached to them. After more examination, scientists learned that those parasites are male anglerfish.

It turns out the evolution of the male anglerfish has left them highly reduced. In some species, the males are not even capable of feeding themselves. Instead, they must find a female to attach themselves to, or die. After attaching, their circulatory systems merge, and she provides him with sustenance via her blood, while he provides her with sperm. The female is the only one with the lighted lure, capable of ambushing predators; the male measures a mere inch and is parasitic, rather than predatory.

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White-Fronted Amazon

pair of white fronted Amazon parrots, The male has the red feathers on the shoulder and the female has green shoulders

Hans Norelius / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

White-fronted Amazon parrots are one of the few animals that do mouth-to-mouth kissing. After grooming each other, these parrots start kissing. This isn't just beak tapping; this is full-on, tongue-involved kissing. When the male parrot becomes aroused, he then vomits into his mate's mouth. This is called allofeeding. It provides the female with extra food to aid her in successfully reproducing, and also reinforces the bond between the birds.

View Article Sources
  1. Newton, Elizabeth. "Manakin mania: The birds that dance with style." University of Melbourne: Scientific Scribbles, 23 Oct. 2016.

  2. "Deep Sea Anglerfish." Oceana.