Evolution has given rise to all sorts of weird and wonderful creatures, from birds of paradise and their stunning displays of colour, to the infamously ugly blob-fish. But nothing fascinates me quite as much as their reproductive behaviour. Some of you may have been lucky enough to encounter a pair of animals mating in your time, or at least witnessed it on a documentary. But here’s some astounding ways certain species do the deed that you likely haven’t heard about.
1. Blanket Octopus
One of the world’s most bizarre cephalopods is the blanket octopus. The females can be as long as 3 metres, at an average length of 2 metres – pretty big! So big that they’re actually around 10,000 times heavier than their male counterparts, who clock in at about 2cm each. When a male finds a lady that takes his fancy, he feels no need to seduce her or put on a flashy display – he simply fills up one of his arms with sperm, and then it detaches. So as I’m writing this, somewhere out in the ocean there’s probably a little arm packed full of octopus sperm, floating towards a giant female, until it reaches her and makes his way inside her mantle cavity to fertilise her eggs later – pretty rapey if you ask me. Oh and on an even darker note, the male dies shortly after. Happy days!
2. Black Widow Spider
Another species where males got the short straw is the black widow spider, named after their love for sexual cannibalism, leaving them as widows. After mating, the female will often eat the male. That’s certainly one way to finish with a bang. However, some of the males are smart enough to seek out the females with full stomachs to avoid being eaten themselves – fair play!
3. Marine Flatworm
Next is the flatworm, a bizarre looking animal with an even more bizarre mating ritual. So these worms are hermaphrodites, being able to act as a female or male during sex. Sounds handy? Well it is for one but not the other. Neither want to play the role of the female – going through insemination, all that time and energy raising offspring whilst the one acting as male is free to swim around and get frisky with more flatworms – who would?! So how do they decide? By fencing……with their penises. You read that right. They use their double-barrelled penises as weapons against each other, striking at each other to pierce skin in order to inject their sperm. This is known as traumatic insemination. Sounds about right. Not to mention these “fencing” battles have been known to last over an hour! I think I’d rather give in and be the female.
4. Bed bugs
Another animal that loves abit of traumatic insemination is the bed bug. The male pierces the female’s abdomen using his sharp penis. “Wtf” is probably what you’re thinking right about now. Well it’s the only way for these parasitic critters…the female simply has no opening, so the male takes it upon himself to make one! The sperm is injected through the open wound and travels to the ovaries for fertilisation. The wound is so painful for her that it can often be fatal. However, it’s a slow death, giving her just enough time to produce offspring – the male’s way of making sure he’s the only father to her babies. Yuck!
So it’s not technically sex, because sponges can asexually reproduce ie. recreate without sex, but it’s still pretty cool (and very peculiar). And yes, sponges are animals! So what’s so great about them? They can regenerate – even after being forced through a sieve, ripped into tiny little pieces. Wilson, a biologist, discovered this in 1907 when he tested it out to find that over time the sponge reforms. More importantly is how on earth did he wake up one day and decide to put a sponge through a sieve? We may never know..
6. Bumble bees
Everyone knows about honey bees and their Queen Bee – but did you know that the males will happily die to mate with her? Once a male gets her approval, he lives the dream of mating with her, but only for a few seconds. Once he reaches climax his testicles explode. So yes, yet another male that gives his life for sex…and I thought men were eager! But it’s a smart move on his part, as a small part of his penis stays inside her, acting like a plug, to prevent other males from fertilising her. So at least he dies knowing he has some kids on the way!
7. Weevil beetles
There’s some species of beetle that have penile spines; sharp thorn-like structures line their penis, just like cats and many other animals. However, these ones are so severe they can actually kill the female when she is penetrated. Males do this to make sure sex is so painful for the female that she’ll be put off mating again. That’s one way of ensuring you’re not cheated on…
8. Gray wolf
Moving away from the creepy crawlies, there’s a mammal that often faces a dilemma whilst he’s getting it on with the ladies. He’s known as a brutal hunter, living in packs that can be 30+ headstrong and once upon a time reigned over the woodlands of Scotland. The wolf. Mysterious. Magnificent to look at….until you spot him mating. Simply because a frisky encounter between male and female quickly becomes awkward because as soon as he penetrates her, his penis swells. They become locked together unable to separate for up to half an hour. Not ideal if you want a quick get away when you realise your choice of mate was a mistake.
9. Adeile penguins
Penguins are a somewhat romantic group of birds, wooing the females in order to get the approval to mate with them. Chinstrap and Adelie penguins collect large stones to create an ideal nest for eggs to show off to the females and the biggest nests are traditionally picked over smaller ones. But it’s not just the females that are wooed with stones. It has been observed that males do this to impress other males! They have been known to mate with each other, build nests together and even look after stones treating them as surrogate eggs. It’s believed by some scientists that as a proportion of their population, there may well be more gay penguins than gay people. It’s yet to be established whether this is through choice or lack of ability to differentiate between the two sexes.
10. Mallard Ducks
On a less adorable and more sinister note, is the rapey culture of male ducks. Those innocent looking chaps bobbing along the pond at your local park aren’t what they seem. They are among the 3% of bird species that have penises, and they make sure to make use out of it. When it comes to sex they are seriously aggressive – the rapists of the bird world. Many male ducks will pin down a female at the same time and take turns in mating with her, which can result in her injury or death. But don’t worry, it’s not always the case – most ducks pair off so it’s just the odd female that hasn’t found a man good enough for her and a bunch of desperate males that this occurs to. If a female that has a partner is approached, he will fight the desperates off and protect her. I guess they can be romantic.
So there you have it – 10 of the strangest ways animals have sex.