When asked to write a blog posting about ‘the romancing habits’ of some of the animals in our living collections for Valentines Day I was a little flummoxed. After all the concept of Love and Romance is a very human idea. In the rest of the animal kingdom the drive is purely to successfully pass on your genes, by whatever means are necessary!
Will Harrison our Eastern Box Turtle be buying chocolates and roses for his four lady friends? Absolutely not.
Box Turtles are a solitary species with a small home range. Courtship, which takes place in spring, occurs usually between turtles with overlapping home ranges. Males find females primarily by sight but scent also plays a role. ‘Courtship’ consists of circling, biting and shoving. Not exactly the stuff of a steamy romance novel! So let us dispense with the term romance and call it what it is – mating. The desire to reproduce. (No blushing now, it is what sustains all species!) Now as a biologist, I feel on slightly more secure ground.
Take for example, our Hermit Crabs.
These fascinating crustaceans scuttle down to the edge of the ocean in large numbers to mate, they slide partially out of their shells and position themselves belly to belly. When her eggs are fertilized, the female will release up to 50,000 of them along the shoreline. When the eggs hatch the initial life stage is a sea dwelling planktonic larvae called a zoeae. This stage lasts about a month before developing into a tiny aquatic hermit crab. The tiny crabs will eventually move onto land, go through a series of molts, each time selecting an empty shell to inhabit for protection before reaching maturity at around two years.
Of course I would be remiss when talking about our collections if I didn’t mention that most terrifying of lovers – the Praying mantis. The perfect antithesis to all those hearts and flowers!
Mantises hunt by movement and there isn’t much discrimination when it comes to prey. Could this be described as the ultimate dinner date? The female will often eat the male during the mating process and the male is even capable of continuing to mate after he has been decapitated! I did mention that the drive to pass on genes was the be all and end all, even if this means giving up your life! And mantids aren’t the only ones who recognize that a well-fed female is more likely to successfully produce viable eggs, some katydid species will actually provide the female with ‘gifts’ of protein before attempting to mate.
But not all invertebrates have such dramatic courtship.
The Scorpion will attract a mate through vibrations and pheromones (no eharmony for these guys!) Then dancing! The dance takes the form of facing each other and grabbing their partners pedipalps. The dance even has a name – the ‘promenade a deux’. (French is after all, the language of love!) The male circles around with the female until he has positioned her over a reproductive package, which he previously deposited on the ground. This process can take from 1 to 25 hours! Once the package has been collected the male beats a hasty retreat to avoid a similar fate to the mantis!
The female gives birth to live young, which she carries on her back until their first shed.
Suddenly sending a Valentines card and box of chocolates seems like a really easy option!