Home Animals The Most Unusual Animal Courtship Rituals
Animals By Monica Gray -

When humans attract a partner, we attempt all sorts of different, strange, and oftentimes outlandish rituals to try and win that person over. There’s not a “one size fits all” when it comes to courtship rituals with humans. But when it comes to animals, they’re pretty predictable. Animals have specific tactics they try to win their mate over, though their tactics differ from animal to animal. We know there are bird dances, mating calls, and other aggressive tactics that animals use. But there are other, stranger courtship rituals. We’ve curated a list of the most unusual rituals animals use to try and attract a mate and keep their species going forever.

The Most Unusual Animal Courtship Rituals
CS Monitor

Red-Cheeked Cordon-Bleu Songbirds Tap Dance

Ladies, get ready for the red-cheeked cordon-bleu songbird’s tap dance! This specific species of songbirds tap their feet in rapid succession, too fast for movements to be seen with the naked eye. Males and females bob their heads and sing to each other during courtship, in addition to tapping their toes. If there was a prospective mate they felt attracted to, they’d tap their feet even faster. To the naked eye, it just looks like the bird is hopping or bobbing. Masayo Soma, an ornithologist at Hokkaido University in Japan who studies these birds said, ​​”They show very quick steps and make sounds by such steps. They perform tap dance to impress potential mates…. what we know is that the number of steps decreases while they are singing, which can be interpreted as that they avoid interference between singing and step sounds, or that it is too physically demanding to sing and perform many-step dancing simultaneously.” They can perform up to six steps at a time (CS Monitor).

The Most Unusual Animal Courtship Rituals
The Guardian

Dinosaurs Had Random Array Of Mating Habits

Even though these animals are extinct, it doesn’t mean they’re left out of this list. Very little is known about dinosaurs’ mating habits, but what we do know is that their courtship rituals were similar to those of modern birds. Evidence preserved in Colorado rocks in the form of scrape marks held remains of Cretaceous dinosaurs. These scrapes were similar to “nest scrapes” created by male birds. These birds, including puffins, sage grouse, and other shore birds, unusually scrape the ground when they’re courting a potential mate. This shows their mate how good they are at building a nest. They would huff and puff and fan their tails, making dozens of scratches at a time. Paleontologist Steve Brusatte said, “We know these dinosaurs were very birdlike in so many aspects, and a sort of ritualistic mating behavior could explain these unusual traces. Maybe they stomped their feet around for another reason, but I think we have to draw the most reasonable conclusion we can based on what we know of living animals, and modern birds are more dinosaur-like than anything else.” These 50 scrape marks were found on stone, and based on other behaviors of the dinosaur, they came to these conclusions (The Guardian).

The Most Unusual Animal Courtship Rituals
Today I Found Out

Clownfish Must Change Gender To Mate

You might find it surprising that all clownfish are born male. To transition to female, they need to be tough and aggressive their whole life, fighting to prove their size and worth. Once they make it to the top, they become female and then mate with the second toughest male in the group. The animal must change its gender to mate. The change is irreversible, and it only happens when the current female in the group dies. The female lays eggs and the second dominant male fertilizes them. The female will guard the eggs for 6-10 days until they hatch. The male or fungus will eat the damaged ones, and once hatched, they live their lives without their parents. The cycle continues once the female dies (Today I Found Out).

The Most Unusual Animal Courtship Rituals
NBC News

Jumping Spiders Catch UV Light

Jumping spiders have recently attracted attention as the cutest of the spider family. But they have some downright odd habits. Male jumping spiders have patches of UV-reflective scales on their faces and bodies, which they show off when posturing during courtship. But the males aren’t the only ones who glow, females also have their glowing tricks to attract males, and that’s the fluorescence green in UV light. When UV light was blocked, spiders didn’t glow, and they lost interest in mating. It’s as if these psychedelic spiders are dressed for a rave. As the male gets closer to attracting their mate, they arch their body, vibrate, and tiptoe to their potential mate, eventually luring them in with their bright colors (NBC News).

The Most Unusual Animal Courtship Rituals
Mental Floss

Angler Fish Males Are Parasitic

If there’s any animal that’s made from nightmares, it’s this fish. Angler fish mating rituals are characterized by extreme sexual dimorphism, with females being much larger than males. The female angler fish lures prey with a glowing appendage called an “esca,” while the male, significantly smaller in size, uses his keen senses to find and attach himself to the female. He becomes a permanent parasite, relying on the female for nourishment and reproductive opportunities. The male’s organs degenerate as he fuses with the female, and when she is ready to reproduce, he fertilizes her eggs internally. This remarkable adaptation ensures the survival of their offspring in the deep-sea environment. (Mental Floss).

The Most Unusual Animal Courtship Rituals
Pet Helpful

Lovebirds Love To Kiss

Lovebirds, with their quirky mating rituals, display behaviors that may seem unusual to some observers. From bobbing and dancing to vocalizing and mutual grooming, they express their affection in unique ways. Their beak-to-beak touching, known as “billing,” and their quick copulatory acts add to the unconventional nature of their courtship. Lovebirds’ dedication to building nests together and their shared incubation and parenting responsibilities further contribute to their distinct mating rituals. While these behaviors might be considered strange by some, they underscore the fascinating and endearing nature of lovebirds and their commitment to their lifelong partners.(Pet Helpful).

The Most Unusual Animal Courtship Rituals
Live Science

Pandas Have A Very Limited Mating Window

Pandas, known for their adorable appearance, have some peculiar mating habits that make them stand out in the animal kingdom. One of the strangest aspects of panda mating is their limited reproductive window. Female pandas are fertile for only a couple of days each year, which significantly reduces their chances of successful reproduction. To complicate matters, male pandas have difficulty identifying when females are in estrus due to their low and often silent mating calls. In response, female pandas resort to unique behaviors such as “scent-marking” by rubbing their anogenital region against trees or rocks to attract males. When males do detect a receptive female, they engage in an unusual ritual of “wrestling” to establish dominance and secure mating rights. Despite these challenges and the low reproductive rate, pandas have managed to captivate the world with their adorable offspring and continue to draw attention to the importance of their conservation. (Live Science).

The Most Unusual Animal Courtship Rituals
Smithsonian Mag

Pufferfish Create Mysterious Circles On The Ocean Floor

In Japan, researchers discovered mystery circles on the floor of the ocean. These circles are related to Pufferfish, and it’s a part of their mating ritual. These circles measured 7 feet in diameter, even though the fish that made them was smaller. Those who made the circles had one thing on their mind, and that was mating. To attract a female, the males swim along the seafloor and flap their fins to sculpt detailed designs, ridges, and valleys. This process takes about nine days. Once they make the design, they decorate them with shell fragments. The females then lay their eggs in the center of the design. Scientists believe these nests are so large because of poor visibility and the need to attract females that might not be nearby (Scientific American).

The Most Unusual Animal Courtship Rituals

Garter Snakes Have Massive Mating Parties

If you want to attend a courtship party, then head out and find some garter snakes. Manitoba has the largest gathering of snakes in the world, and it turns out it’s a big mating party. Each snake has multiple partners. The males emerge from their lairs underground. When the larger female shows up, the males turn into a giant mating ball. The female is surrounded by 100 males, who try to mate with her at the same time. They also have another, sneakier tactic, where they produce female pheromones to fool other males into trying to mate with them. This tangle has been described. It turns out that one generation of snakes can have several different fathers, all the result of the giant mating ball (Colorado).

The Most Unusual Animal Courtship Rituals
Medical News Today

Bonobos Are A Bit Promiscuous

These free-loving apes have a strange courtship ritual that involves a lot of promiscuity. They don’t feel jealousy, and members of both sexes engage in courtship activities with one another. They use these rituals to make friends, as currency, form group bonds, and of course, reproduce. Females tend to have more interactions with each other than with their male counterparts. People refer to bonobos as the hippie apes. During a study of bonobos, Martin Surbeck said, “It may be that a greater motivation for cooperation among females, mediated physiologically by oxytocin, is the key to understanding how females attain high dominance ranks in bonobo society.” Oxytocin plays a huge role in their behavior, and females use interactions with each other to establish their equality with males (Medical News Today).

The Most Unusual Animal Courtship Rituals

Prairie Voles Are In Tune With Their Partner’s Emotions

These loyal animals are monogamous, affectionate, and loving. They care for their partner and can feel when they’re stressed. They cater to their partner’s needs and shower them with love and affection, especially when they need it the most. These animals spend most of their time together, and if another one tries to get in the way, they’ll chase them away. Larry Young studied these animals, and regarding their courtship rituals, said, “The first thing he has to do is to get her interested in him, and he does that by courting her, and the smell of the pheromones gets her brain activated. And after about 24 hours, she’s ready to mate.” And then, they mate for life. And even if the vole loses a partner, they never replace that partner with another animal (NPR).

The Most Unusual Animal Courtship Rituals
Adam Sex Terminating

Black Widows Are Infamous For A Reason

When the smaller males approach the female’s web, they have to take precautions. If they’re not careful, the black widow female might mistake them for prey and eat them. But that’s part of this strange animal courtship ritual, and if you’re not mistaken for prey, then you’ve made it past the first step. To keep themselves safe, males announce their presence with vigorous rump shaking. When they step onto the web, they vibrate their abdomen which sends signals across the silk strands. He’ll do a series of repetitive vibrating movements that are starkly different from the trapped prey. Sometimes, though, the female will devour the male during their courtship. Mating with a black widow is a dangerous activity, and males have to take extreme precautions. Males are so dedicated to finding a female mate, that many of them die during their pursuit. Their main goal is to avoid being cannibalized during sex and impregnate their female counterpart (National Geographic).

The Most Unusual Animal Courtship Rituals
Sunshine Coastal Float

Humpback Whales Sing In A Chorus

Listen to the song of the humpback whale, who sings to attract females. Unlike many other animals, they sing in a chorus when looking for mates. This courtship ritual involves many different mates that gather in large groups, which scientists call arenas. They all sing together and spread out, to let the female know where they are so she can choose her favorite mate. Hawaii, Japan, Central America, and Mexico attract these whales for breeding, and off the coast of Hawaii, groups of 5,000 or more humpback whales gather to mate. Once gathered, the female pairs with an escort, and then a group of males fight to overthrow the escort. They bump their tails, splash their fins, and chase the female in high-speed pursuit (AZ Animals).

The Most Unusual Animal Courtship Rituals
ABC Birds

Marvelous Spatulatail Speaks For Itself

One species of the fluttering, magical hummingbird is the marvelous spatulatail. In this species, the males attract their female counterparts in a courtship ritual involving their tails. They whip their tails back and forth with their long tails, measuring about six inches. Their tails are longer than their bodies! The males whip their tails feverishly and ferociously at females they want to attract. At high speed, the male will bounce across a twig and then hover in front of the female. Females visit communal display areas where females select a mate (ABC Birds).

The Most Unusual Animal Courtship Rituals
Science Alert

This Male Octopus Disguises Itself As Female

One specific species of octopus, the Abdopus auleatus, has an intricate mating culture that involves a series of courtship rituals. Males live near their female mates to keep them safe. Other males, called the “sneaker males”, disguise themselves as females to slip past the guards keeping the females safe, so they can mate with them. They do this by changing coloration, which fools the guards. Males will also change their gender momentarily to avoid being cannibalized by other males. During their courtship, the male will constantly approach the female, who will fend him off. Eventually, she’ll accept his invitation and begin the mating ritual. Octopi has horrendous outcomes though because once the females lay eggs, she begins her self-destruction by ripping off her skin and eating her tentacles (Science Alert).

The Most Unusual Animal Courtship Rituals
Busy in Agriculture

Drone Bees: Fatal Attraction

When bees mate, it’s the last thing they’ll ever do. If they find a queen to mate with, he’ll do so in a way that the result is fatal. In this courtship ritual, he’ll ejaculate with an explosive pop, rupture his endophallus, paralyze himself, and then die as part of his endophallus sticks to the queen. The queen then holds onto his semen for later use. The next male to mate with the queen rips away the previous endophallus and the process starts over. Even if the male manages to survive, he’s rejected by his nest. He’s fulfilled his one purpose and is not needed any longer. The queen can store up to 100 million sperm (Orkin).

The Most Unusual Animal Courtship Rituals

Giraffes Taste Pee

Before males can continue their courtship rituals, they have to taste pee. The only way they can tell if the females are fertile is by tasting for specific pheromones in her urine. Luckily, humans don’t have to do this, and this courtship ritual is specific to giraffes. The male will nudge the girl, and after several chances, the female urinates into the bull’s mouth. He uses a sensitive vomeronasal organ to smell his potential partner’s pee. It takes around 150 females for the male to find a fertile one who’s ready to mate. Once they mate, there are no long-term bonds formed between the two, and usually, there’s only one male in a given area that’s allowed to mate. Males fighting over a woman will use their heads and necks as weapons to see who’s the more dominant male (Lib Guides).

The Most Unusual Animal Courtship Rituals

Adelie Penguins Gift Shiny Pebbles

Male Adelie penguins try and woo their female counterparts in a courtship ritual involving shiny pebbles. They’ll scour the beaches to find the smoothest, shiniest pebble they can find to bring as a gift for the females. They’ll also put on a display of beak thrusting and neck arching. If she likes the gift, she’ll line her nest with it and mate with the male. The two will work together to continue building the nest that will eventually hold their eggs. The female typically has two eggs. If another male shows up with the right stone, the female will also mate with him. These penguins keep the love alive with their adorable pebble gifts (Britannica).

The Most Unusual Animal Courtship Rituals

Hippos Are Nasty

Hippo courtship isn’t as cute as penguin courtship. To impress the females, male hippos will defecate and urinate near the female, and use their tails to spin and fling their feces as far as they can. They’ll fart as loud as possible and make sure every female near them can see and smell their magic. If a female’s interested in the hippo’s superpowers, she’ll reciprocate by raising her rear out of the water and showering him in her feces, something scientists refer to as “submissive defecation.” This entire process lasts about three days when the male finally finds a female he’s ready to mate with. They’re the only mammals in Africa to mate in water (St. Lucia South Africa).

The Most Unusual Animal Courtship Rituals
Birdwatching Daily

Manakin’s Pair Up To Take On Females

To seduce a female, males approach females in pairs. The pair will perch next to her on a branch, and the alpha will hover in front of the female before flying back to the branch. Sometimes, there’s even a third, and fourth male that joins the courtship ritual. This impresses the female even more and increases the likelihood she’ll choose the alpha as a mate. They dance together, and then once they’re finished, the female decides if she wants to mate. The alpha male of the pair gets to mate. If the female decides to mate with him, she’ll make a series of flapping and chirping sounds. The other males will leave, the alpha will do his final dance, and eventually, the two will mate. The beta male is there as a sidekick and to learn the mating moves, so that he can eventually mate as an alpha male (Birdwatching Daily).

The Most Unusual Animal Courtship Rituals

Land Snails Are Just Unexpected

The land snail, Cornu aspersum, has a small appendage close to the eyestalk. This female received this structure thanks to her mate. It’s there to deliver an envelope full of sperm. Both are capable of fertilizing the other one. They do this by using “love darts” that stab their partner. They do this after circling and touching one another. Some snails will use a single dart that repeatedly jabs their mate for up to an hour. They never said love comes easy, and in the world of snail courtship rituals, love hurts. The darts are made of calcium, and they use their dart to fertilize as many snails as possible. Eventually, the females develop an anti-dart layer on their skin, which prevents unwanted sperm from entering them (National Geographic).

The Most Unusual Animal Courtship Rituals

Bowerbirds Are The Ultimate Interior Designer

Bowerbirds will decorate their bowers with colorful objects they’ve collected, to display their aesthetic appeal. These elaborate structures involved in their courtship ritual are specifically designed for female interest. They also construct their bachelor pad in a way that when they stand in front of it, they seem larger and bigger to the female, who’s viewing him from the outside. This illusion is designed with the female in mind. The bigger the male seems, the more likely the female is to choose him as a mate. John Endler, of Deakin University, studied these birds. He said, “Better gradients produce more even patterns when seen from within the avenue. Males spend most of their time on the power going into the avenue and looking out, then moving objects, going back into the avenue, and so on. When in the avenue, they also sometimes fix the twigs in the walls, too.” Their courtship ritual is all about appearance (The Guardian).

The Most Unusual Animal Courtship Rituals

Porcupines Only Have 12 Hours

Porcupines only have about 12 hours a year to make their moves on the females. That means they have to try their best to secure the affection of the female, in the hopes of mating with them. The female secrets a fragrant mucus that lures the male towards her. If the male manages to find her and chase away any rivals, he’ll drench her in a jet of urine. People will also hear grunts, moans, whining, and even more agitated howls if the males are fighting over the female (Critter Control).

The Most Unusual Animal Courtship Rituals

Sage Grouse Relies On Their Air Sac

Canadian sage grouse gather in the Canadian Prairies every year to engage in competitive mating rituals. Every morning, they puff out air sacs in their chests, swing their tails, and make sounds, in the hopes they’ll attract females who gather around them to watch. After the performance, the female chooses the one she thinks is the best. Most females will choose the most dominant male. Some call this the best mating dance in the West (WLFW).

The Most Unusual Animal Courtship Rituals
Wildlife Animal Control

Mice Sing In High Pitch

Males that want to attract a mate will sing high-pitched songs in an ultrasonic range. These whistling sounds differ from their normal communication. The females are picky about which songs they like and even prefer the tunes their relatives sing. The males will sniff and follow the female around until she’s ready to mate with him. Mice are polyamorous, and the male will mate with multiple females (Wildlife Animal Control).

The Most Unusual Animal Courtship Rituals

Flatworm Mating Sounds Painful

When two flatworms meet, it’s not exactly romantic. They’ll extend sharp two-headed male genitalia to try and stab the other one to inject them with sperm. And even if they lose, it’s not the end of the world. The male will continue “fencing” until they’re eventually stabbed and impregnated If the female doesn’t want the sperm of the male, she can easily remove it. The females are resistant, while the males are persistent in their pursuit of mating (National Geographic).

The Most Unusual Animal Courtship Rituals
The Safina Center

Albatrosses Mate For Life

These birds have wanderlust. They like to travel and can spend years flying around the sea without ever touching land. During mating season, when they come back to the Galapagos Islands, they come back for their lifelong partner. When they see their mate, they greet each other with a 20-minute dance. They stick around for their offspring for a year after their birth, until they’re ready to flee the nest. And even though they have a life partner, they’ll still mate around without losing their life partner. It doesn’t mean they’re cheating, as we would think of it in the human mating world. They’re polyamorous, but they only do this to keep their species going, even if they do have one life partner (Ocean Conservancy).

The Most Unusual Animal Courtship Rituals
National Geographic

Sea Slugs Are Hermaphroditic

Sea slugs are hermaphroditic, meaning they have both male and female sex organs. When these two come together to mate, they stab each other between the eye to deliver sperm. Scientists are unsure why slugs choose this spot for fertilization, but for some reason, it makes sense for them. Biologist Rolanda Lange said the fluid might “increase the fecundity of a sea slug’s sperm, or inhibit that deposited by previous partners.” They believe it has to do something with the central nervous system (National Geographic).