Most animals can’t breed alone; they need the help of a member of the opposite sex. Competition is fierce. To succeed in the mating game, animals have to use every possible colour, sound, and some very strange behaviour.
1. Mating frogs make a wall of sound
In many tropical and subtropical areas during the mating season frogs and toads may produce a deafening chorus of croaking. The call varies with the species and there is an enormous range.
The spotted grass frog of Australia emits simple, brief clicks, while the trills of the great plains toad of North America last several minutes. The male Madagascar tree frog has a repertoire of 28 different calls, rather than the more usual five.
The calls serve to attract females to mate. Many frogs amplify their calls up to 100 times with huge resonating sacs that bulge from the corner of their jaws. The African common toad’s call can carry nearly 875 yards.
2. Courting stink bugs send good vibrations
Southern green stink bugs use special vibrations to find each other amid dense vegetation. First, a male attracts a female to his shrub by sending out his scent, but that alone is not enough for her to find him.
Once she has landed in the vicinity, the female stays put and "sings", using plant stems like telegraph wires. She vibrates her body, sending signals along the stems to communicate her whereabouts to the male.
The male responds to her signals by walking up the plant, touching the stem with his antennae, and calling back. He follows the vibrations until he reaches the female. This species is found in Asia, Europe, and North and South America.
3. Females fight off mad march hares
Female hares refuse to be hurried when it comes to sex. An overzealous male may be seen off with a hearty thump. When a male tries to mate with an unwilling female (doe) she rears up on her powerful hind legs and boxes him with her front paws until he gets the message.
Later, when the doe is ready to mate, the male can approach her without fear of getting bruised. But that does not stop males from trying their luck as early as possible, every spring.
4. Booby plays the fool for his mate
The blue-footed booby’s courtship dance is one of nature’s most comical sights. The Spanish word bobo, "clown" or "stupid fellow", is probably the origin of the blue-footed booby’s name.
This species, which lives on the western coast of America, has the most extraordinary feet. They are huge, webbed, and bright blue.
The male’s courtship ritual involves much parading around, high-stepping, and lifting those enormous feet up and down to show them off to best effect to the female, who is clearly fascinated by them. This performance is accompanied by mutual preening, bill-fencing, and head-tossing.
Later, the fantastic feet serve another purpose: the booby rests them over its eggs to keep them warm. The adult birds then support the young on the top of their feet for a month after hatching.
5. The lyrebird's talent for impersonation
Parrot screeches, other birds’ songs, dog barks, a chainsaw… there is no end to the sounds that the Australian lyrebird will copy. One male was found to duplicate the calls of 16 other bird species, and the songs are often so loud that they can be heard 875 yards away.
To perform, the terrestrial lyrebird builds a stage from vegetation. He stands in the centre, throws his tail plumes over his head like a parasol, and sings loudly. Females travel from court to court to watch. The males may spend half the day displaying.
6. Salmon get their teeth into breeding
As salmon migrate towards their spawning beds, both sexes undergo dramatic physical changes in preparation to mate. The females’ bodies fill with eggs, while the males develop new characteristics and mature into fighting machines.
Soon after leaving salt water, a cock Atlantic salmon’s skin changes colour, taking on a range of reddish tones. His head elongates, his jaws enlarge, and a hook develops on the lower jaw.
Other species of salmon also undergo conspicuous changes. From a streamlined silvery fish, the breeding sockeye salmon’s transformation is most dramatic: his back arches, his head turns green, his body scarlet, and he develops a fierce set of teeth.
When the salmon reach their spawning grounds, males battle over females, shooting through the water at speed to chase away rivals.
7. Black-clad widow bird surprises with a dance
The male Jackson’s widow bird introduces himself to a likely female by suddenly jumping up from behind tall grasses. For a short while he indulges in an energetic, swooping, jumpy flight, dragging his long black tail behind him like a bridal train, before dropping down out of sight.
The male’s dance is designed to catch the eye of a female so he can lead her to his nest. An inhabitant of the plains of southern and eastern Africa, this thrush-sized bird’s tail feathers grow to 20 cm (8 in) long.
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