Top Ten Critter Cupids from the Smithsonian’s National Zoo
For Release: February 1, 2012
Photo Credit: Smithsonian’s National Zoo
Experts at the Smithsonian's National Zoo have proof that romance is not only for the warm and fuzzy; friskiness is a trait
all animals share-be they furry, feathered or finned. Seduction techniques abound in the animal kingdom: Zoo staff
recognize when reptiles are feeling rapturous and giant pandas are peaking (hormonally speaking) and ready to procreate.
The Zoo has compiled some of the most interesting mating rituals and behaviors on its website.
This Valentine's Day, web visitors can "woo" loved ones with a truly wild gift-bestow an honorary name upon a
National Zoo critter after a sweetie, a friend or a family member. "Critter Cupids" include a fanciful valentine to
print and present, plus the inestimable satisfaction of supporting wildlife conservation.
Did you Know?
When a female red-sided garter snake emerges from hibernation, she releases potent pheromones that signal that she is
in the mood. This attracts about 20,000 males, all of them eager to pass on their DNA. The males squirm together to form a
giant "mating ball" around the lone female. This frenzy attracts hundreds of human tourists from around the globe
to the snake's native home, Manitoba, Canada, every year.
Cupid isn't the only one who shoots arrows to induce love. Several snail and slug species also shoot "love
darts" (composed of calcium carbonate and protein) at their partners before mating. Although the "special
deliveries" don't contain sperm, it's in the snail's best interest to land the sticky substance on its partner;
each glob increases the chance of sperm survival when mating does occur.
Attention female giraffes: "urine" good shape to attract a mate! Many male giraffes check if a female is
in heat by nudging her and inducing urination. They can determine her "readiness" by using the Flehmen
response-a technique that analyzes smells using the Jacobson's organ. Some giraffe species will go so far as tasting the
urine to determine if it's time for love.
Female kangaroos can become pregnant immediately after giving birth. A mother's pouch may become crowded with two
joeys of different ages, but she can nurse both at the same time-with two different types of milk to suit each growing
Microscopic mites are having incestuous sex-on our eyebrows. A Demodex female mite with no nearby males can
reproduce asexually in a process called parthenogenesis. She then mates with her male offspring to produce the next
generation. Luckily, they pose no known threat to our health. In fact, we may benefit from them feasting on our dead
Size does matter when it comes to clownfish mating habits. A female clownfish is the largest in her breeding group,
followed by her mate. When she dies, her male partner will grow larger and turn into a female-a process known as
No one quite feels the pressure to perform the way a female ferret does. They produce estrogen until they mate or
develop aplastic anemia, which decreases red blood cell creation. If she fails to mate after going into heat, the result
could be her death.
Ferrets are not the only animals with a killer mating practice. After a male honey bee mates with the queen of the
colony, his genitals break off and remain inside her. As he tries to "exit," his abdomen rips apart, and he dies.
Bald eagles take breeding to new heights. They soar thousands of feet into the air where they lock talons and
begin mating while freefalling toward the ground. They release and soar upward just before reaching the ground.
Like Cupid, male porcupines need to have good aim when attempting to attract a female. Unlike the aforementioned
slugs, male porcupines don't shoot "darts," but they do aim a steady stream of urine at their intended-who
could be as far as six and a half feet away. If she drenches herself in the shower, she is ready to mate.