9 of the Most Bizarre Animal Mating Habits

Strange love

Anna Norris.

Mating is pretty much what it's all about for any animal that reproduces sexually; Animals that don't mate won't pass on their genes. So you'd think that evolution would have made sex easy, right?

Nope. The truth is, mating is often fraught with perils and deception for many creatures. Some animals must perform wild antics just to impress their mates, while others are born with odd ornamental body parts. Still others risk being eaten, often by the very animal they're trying to mate with!

If you think your local dating scene is awkward, wait until you read about the sex lives of these creatures. Here are nine of the most bizarre animal mating habits found in nature. (Text: Bryan Nelson)

Flatworms

richard ling/Flickr.

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 that has been described as "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 the mother.

These battles are hardly innocent foreplay. Flatworms will often gouge gaping holes in one another, and the fight can last for up to an hour. Not only does the winner get to gloat, but it also gets to swim off without any further biological responsibility in producing the offspring.

Bowerbirds

dracophylla/Shutterstock.

Male bowerbirds are the ultimate home designers of the animal kingdom. To woo a lover, they build elaborate, colorful shrines — called "bowers" — for their potential mates. The bowers are often decorated with bright objects, the colors of which typically vary depending on the species. Bowers have been found built with anything from flowers, berries and seashells, to plastic beads, coins, broken glass or even rifle shells.

A female then chooses her mate based on his artistic prowess. Because females can be quite picky, males have to step up their game. Bowers are often embellished and intricately adorned. Check out this video of a male bowerbird in action to get a glimpse of just how painstaking these bowers can be to build.

Water striders

Markus Gayda/Wiki Commons.

For those of you who like to spice up your sex lives by adding an element of danger, you may have found your insect equivalent in the water strider. These little charismatic insects are best known for their ability to walk on water, but their dicey sex lives might be what truly sets them apart as miracle workers.

During both courting and copulation, male water striders are known to tap their legs against the water's surface in a pattern that purposely lures predatory fish. Scientists speculate that the risky behavior encourages the female to mate quickly, to give the guy what he wants before she becomes fish food.

Porcupines

Wiki Commons.

One might imagine that sex is a delicate act for these prickly animals. In fact, because a female could impale her lover with one quick flick of her quills, a male won't pursue a female unless he’s damn sure she is ready and willing.

So what gets a female porcupine going? As it turns out, she likes a golden shower.

That's right: a male will drench his potential lover in urine, often at high velocity and from a distance. If she's not interested, she'll whine and shake off the shower. But if she's into it, she'll expose her (quill-less) underbelly and allow the male to mount.

Red-capped manakin

Guilherme Jófili/Flickr.

The male red-capped manakin might have the slickest mating dance of them all. When he comes across a lady manakin, he channels his inner Michael Jackson and starts moonwalking. (You have to see it to believe it.)

If the female is impressed (and how couldn't she be?), she'll allow him to mate.

Hooded seals

NatGeoWild/Youtube.

Female hooded seals have some unusual mate preferences: they're allured by males that have the most attractive nasal balloons.

What are nasal balloons, you ask? Male hooded seals have evolved specialized pinkish-red nasal cavities that they can blow up like bubblegum. To get a female's attention, the male will often blow up his balloon and start bouncing it around. It's a bizarre sight, to say the least. The cavities can expand to roughly the shape of the seal's head.

Praying mantises

TarynMarie/Flickr.

For a male praying mantis, a receptive female is both a dream come true and his worst nightmare all wrapped up into one. Mantises display one of the better researched forms of sexual cannibalism.

In other words, if lovemaking makes a female mantis hungry, she won't wait until after sex to begin snacking — and she'll start with her lover's head. A male's body will often continue copulating with the female even after she has devoured his noggin. (Hey, if you've gotta go, might as well go out with a bang.)

The good news for male mantises is that sexual cannibalism only happens about 16 percent of the time in the wild. So each time a male approaches a female, he has to determine whether it's worth the risk.

Anglerfish

seesternli/Flickr.

When scientists first started capturing anglerfish for study, they were baffled at why all the specimens were female. Where were all the males? Though the males were nowhere to be found, female anglerfish were rarely discovered alone. Many came with tiny parasites attached to them.

After more careful examination, however, scientists reached a shocking realization: those tiny attachments weren't parasites; they were the 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 quickly find a female to attach themselves to, or die. After attaching, their circulatory systems merge and she provides him with sustenance, while he provides her with sperm.

White-fronted parrot

Wiki Commons.

Have you ever had a really bad kiss? Well, hopefully your experience wasn't as bad as it is for a female white-fronted parrot.

Courting begins innocently enough for these parrots. In fact, they display one of the few known cases of mouth-to-mouth kissing in the animal world. (Awww, parrots kissing.) But for the male parrot, slipping the tongue isn't enough. After making out for a while, the male becomes sufficiently aroused, prompting them to vomit straight into their lover's mouth. (Ewww, parrots kissing!)

Lucky for male parrots, females typically accept this "gift" as a sign of intimacy.