Nature... weird in love

Hare - Russell Savory

Love is in the air, hormones are running high and our local wildlife is starting to ramp up sexual displays, posturing and wooing. But it’s not all just down to science, nature gets a bit weird and wonderful when it comes to love as our Wild Learning Officer, Lucy, explores...

Nursery web spiders

The role of wooing a potential partner can be daunting at the best of times. Imagine, however, if you got it wrong and your blunder didn’t just lead to embarrassment, but an untimely death instead! That is certainly the case for male nursery web spiders.

When it comes to winning a female’s attention, male nursery web spiders know to not turn up empty handed and will bring a food gift wrapped in silk for the female to eat. If the female accepts this food parcel, she will tuck in and allow the male to mate with her. In a study carried out on the mating behaviour of nursery web spiders, males that showed up without a gift were eaten in far higher numbers than those that didn’t and males that bought gifts along were allowed to mate with females for longer, meaning that chances of fathering offspring with the female increased.

Female nursery spider web spiders are not only demanding however, they are promiscuous too and will mate with many males and are able to store sperm until needed when her eggs are ready to fertilize. 

Newts

When it comes to securing a mate among newts, it’s all about the male’s moves and in his tail fanning and wafting ways.

Great crested and smooth newts have very similar mating rituals and the wooing process certainly is a labour of love. The male will swim in front of the female in the early stages trying to pique her interest. If successful in this initial stage, the female will stay and observe her potential mate, but if the male is unlucky in love, she will swim past him leaving him in her wake.

Once the male has the female interested, the male will then go into a stage of intense tail fanning, wafting his pheromones toward the female. At this point, if the female has stayed, she is likely to be fully engaged and this is the male’s cue to retreat backwards to the female continuing to mesmerise her by fanning his tail. Then, whilst he turns away from the female he starts to quiver his tail and encourages her to follow him until he pauses, almost dramatically, where he deposits his spermatophore and turns 90 degrees allowing the female to position herself over the spermatophore where she will take in it. You would think that after that complicated and intricate mating ritual, that would be it, however, the female may not successfully uptake the spermatophore and so the male will need to start the process all over again!

Hares

Hares are well known for their boxing behaviours but, unlike popular belief, hare boxing matches aren’t between males fighting over a female, but matches are between males and females, with the female packing a punch when the male becomes too persistent. Males will chase females across fields in an attempt to mate with them and when their persistent ways become too much, they let the male know by frantically boxing with their front legs. Look out for these behaviours at the beginning of March when their mating season begin.

Adders

When competition is high, often the only way to shine is with your winning dance moves.

After emerging from their winter hibernation, male adders will spend some time basking in the sun, warming up and gaining energy, and shedding their skins ready for the new year ahead of them, then start to look for females to mate with by following their scent trails.

Competition is high however, with other males appearing on the scene having followed the same scent trails, and often they must compete with each other to protect “their mate”.  Known as the dance of the adders, males will rise of the ground and entwine their bodies with each other and in jerky movements, trying to push their love rival to the ground in a battle of strength.

Leopard slugs

Both beautiful and bizarre, when it comes to slug sex things get strange and sticky! The leopard slug has a unique way of mating which is both mesmerising and a little gross to watch, if you’re ever lucky enough to catch them in the act.

One of my all-time favourite species, the leopard slug is the UK’s polka dot annelid and when it comes to sex, they certainly get an A+ for originality. Twisting their bodies together and hanging upside down from a sparkling slimy strand of mucus, leopard slugs mate whilst slowly spinning round.

To add to this sight, things heat up even more as two big, blue protrusions start to emerge from just behind their heads, these being their penises which are the length of their bodies, which they twist together to fertilize each other’s eggs.

Unfortunately, catching leopard slugs in their slimy act isn’t too common. Being hermaphrodites they can fertilize their own eggs and if they do decide to mate, they will often only once in their life time.

Leopard slug - Lucy Shepherd

Leopard slug - Lucy Shepherd