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Unusual and extreme
On Valentine's Day, lovers who are eager to woo their partners show their affection with traditional gifts of red roses, heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, or with romantic dinners at fancy restaurants. There's usually some effort involved, but pulling off a memorable Valentine's Day is easier — and generally safer — than some of the courtship rituals performed by other animal species.
For most animals, wooing comes with heightened personal risk. A male's showy displays, while attracting a female's attention, could also attract nearby predators, and fights between male rivals can also result in a date night with a body count. In some cases, winning a cannibalistic female's affections places the male at the top of the post-coital menu.
Many of the courting behaviors practiced by animals may seem strange to us, but as peculiar and risky as they are, they work just fine for their intended audiences. Here are a few examples of unusual and extreme courtship rituals in the animal kingdom.
Firing love dartsSlide 2 of 23
Firing love darts
Look closely at these photos of land snail Cornu aspersum, and you'll see a small appendage close to the eyestalk. That tiny structure was propelled into the snail's head by its mate, delivering an infusion of a special mucus that prepares the snail for receiving an envelope full of sperm.
As land snails are hermaphrodites, either snail in a mating pair is capable of fertilizing the other, and both are equipped with "love darts" that they use to stab their partner — after they spend a bit of time circling around and touching each other with their muscular pseudopods.
Some snail species shoot single darts, some shoot multiple darts, and others use a single dart to repeatedly jab their mate for close to an hour, according to a 2006 study, published in the journal The American Naturalist.Slide 3 of 23
Scraping and scratchingSlide 4 of 23
Scraping and scratching
Little is known about dinosaurs' mating habits, but evidence preserved in rocks in Colorado suggests that some dinosaurs practiced a ritual dance much like one performed by living birds.
Paleontologists found scrape marks — many dozens of them — in four sites that held remains of Cretaceous dinosaurs. In a 2016 study published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports, researchers explained that they saw distinct similarities between these scratches in the rock, and so-called "nest scrapes" created by certain types of male birds as part of their courtship displays.
Male birds across a number of ground nesting species — including sage grouse, puffins and various shore birds — scrape the ground in front of females, as if to demonstrate how good they would be at building a nest. They make dozens or even hundreds of scratches at a time, and usually accompany scraping with strutting, puffing themselves up, and fanning their tails.Slide 5 of 23
Twerk or be eatenSlide 6 of 23
Twerk or be eaten
Black widow (Latrodectus Hesperus) females are about twice as large as males, so the smaller suitors have to take some precautions when approaching a female's web, lest they be mistaken for prey and eaten before mating even gets underway.
Males stay safe by announcing their presence to the female with vigorous rump shaking.
As a male steps onto a female's web, he vibrates his abdomen, sending signals coursing along the silk strands. He advances, vibrates and pauses, advances, vibrates and pauses — a pattern distinctly different from the shorter, more irregular movements of trapped prey, researchers found in a study, published in the journal Frontiers in Zoology. The study authors also discovered that the vibrations that males produce are at a low amplitude, further distinguishing them from prey movements, which were more dynamic and percussive.Slide 7 of 23
Injecting sex hormonesSlide 8 of 23