An amusing A to Z of the courtship and mating habits of animals—including Homo sapiens
"Birds do it, bees do it, Even educated fleas do it." So wrote Cole Porter in his famous song from 1928, "Let's Do It, Let's Fall In Love." To which Bruce Montague, author of this enlightening and amusing collection, silently replied, "Yes, but how do they do it?" From well-hung South American drakes to shy camels arranging secret love trysts, female chameleons whose skin darkens when they're no longer in the mood to giraffes who swing their hips and swish their tails when they're feeling frisky, oysters that can change sex pretty much at will to stud rhinoceroses that can copulate three or four times a day for a week, this is a wide ranging, light-hearted but well-researched look at the world of animal love and lust. Arranged alphabetically by species, here is the perfect handbook for anyone who wants to know what goes on in the animal world behind the—metaphorical—bedroom curtains.
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Birds, Bees and Educated Fleas
An A-Z Guide to the Sexual Predilections of Animals from Aardvarks to Zebras
By Bruce Montague
John Blake Publishing LtdCopyright © 2015 Bruce Montague
All rights reserved.
The aardvark is a nocturnal animal found in sub-Saharan Africa. It has no known relatives, and like the Red Panda (see Red Pandas), is the only living species in its order.
Aardvark means earth pig. However it is not remotely related to pigs. To look at, it resembles a bald, hunchbacked rat with the snout of an anteater, but neither is it a rat nor a true anteater. It is not even related to the South American anteater that it superficially resembles. Its unlikely distant cousin, several times removed, is the elephant. Not a kissing cousin though. At full stretch, an aardvark can achieve a length of 6ft, two-thirds of which is tail.
Its big ears move independently, like those of a kangaroo. And if there's a dusty atmosphere, it can somehow button down its ears to keep them clean. It has 20 teeth without enamel or roots called tubulidentata, meaning tube-toothed, which continually regenerate themselves.
The male has a scent gland situated near his testes that emits a strong musky smell. The female has a gland near her vulva, which will emit the appropriate pheromones when her time is ripe.
A shy fellow, the male aardvark only reveals his penis when he is ready for penetrative sex. At this juncture, his penis springs from the prepuce (a layer of skin protecting and concealing the sex organs) and rapidly acquires tumescence. In the Congo, he will mate with many female aardvarks as often as possible between April and May. The gestation period is seven months.
Aardvarks are solitary animals with long extensile tongues and spend their days sleeping deep down in burrows. Their gastronomic delight consists chiefly of termites, though not to the exclusion of other hymenoptera that happen to cross their path. (Hymenoptera is the scientific word for a large order of insects that includes bees, wasps, ants, and sawflies.)
The aardvark is not averse to asserting squatters' rights in old termite nests when ready to give birth. The time of oestrus (the period when most female mammals, except humans, are receptive to sexual activity during which ovulation occurs, commonly called 'on heat') is evident when the area surrounding the female's vagina swells up.
The mother gives birth to a single offspring each season. A baby aardvark weighs less than 4.4lb (2kg) and has smooth pink skin. This little fellow spends his first two weeks in the burrow with his mother, and once he has gained his land legs he will accompany her on nocturnal feeding forays. After 16 weeks, he is completely weaned and at the age of six months he wanders off for a life on his own. Aardvarks have a life span of 10 years in the wild, but can survive twice as long in captivity.
The word albatross derives from the Arabic language and means 'the diver'. The original word described any number of diving birds, including herons. Alcatraz, the island off San Francisco, derives its name from the same root. They were originally called gooney birds and sometimes mollymawks.
When Captain Cook was sailing through Antarctica he came across an island crammed with macaroni penguins, petrels, prions, shearwaters, fulmars and albatrosses. He called it Bird Island. Despite the summers being wet and windy, many birds, including albatrosses, use it as a nesting site. They come here every couple of years to mate and lay an egg. It is possible that their life expectancy could extend to 100 years.
With an 11-ft wing span (340cm), they spend their days cruising over the Southern Ocean and the North Pacific searching for food. They cover almost 1000km every day. Uniquely, they have pipe- like tubes either side of their beaks that act in the same way as pitot tubes on aeroplanes (pitot tubes measure wind velocity). These enable them to judge their airspeed. Albatrosses fly so effortlessly that their heart rate is practically the same when cruising on the thermals as it is at rest. They have the ability to shut down their brain compartmentally, allowing them to fly on auto-pilot so that they can sleep on the wing.
They always build their nests within 72ft (22m) of their previous home or where they were first hatched. They reach sexual maturity at about 5, but generally wait another couple of years before breeding. When courting for the first time they have complex, ritualised dances in which both sexes take part: it is the albatross's way of summing up the suitability of the other bird as a breeding partner. After mating for the first time the pair bond for life.
It takes two years for the great wandering albatross to breed a chick (they lay one egg at a time). For three months they take it in turns to sit on the egg allowing their partner the opportunity to go off and find food. Even after the chickling has hatched, the mother stays with the brood for a further nine months, because in much of their habitat the weather is severely cold. It can take a year before the chick is fully fledged.
Every other year they have regular reunions, which they celebrate by showing off to each other a truncated form of their original courting display as a sort of reassuring gesture.
Widow birds have been known to bond with other females for the purposes of companionship and to assist looking after a chick and, in particular, any orphaned chicks.
ALLIGATORS AND CROCODILES
Alligators are reptiles (see Reptiles). Their native habitat is the eastern section of China, the south of the United States, and along the Gulf coast.
A male alligator is aroused by the scent of musk. He signals sexual desire by immersing himself in the water and practising deep rumbling sounds – so low that humans can barely hear them, but the effects can be witnessed when the water eddies around the reptile and appears to start boiling. As in all reptiles, alligators have cloacae, through which they excrete and mate (see Cloaca). But the male also has a slight inverted penis.
When the weather is warm enough and their sexual interest is aroused, a male alligator's cloaca will begin to turn inside out and a penis emerges. This he inserts into the receptive cloaca of the female. As with gharials (long-living Indian crocodiles) intercourse takes place in water and usually in early winter so that the eggs can be laid in spring. The female fashions a nest in the sand with twigs and stones where she lays a clutch of about two dozen eggs.
The sex of hatchlings is determined by the temperature of the air during the incubation period. All the baby alligators of one clutch will be of the same sex. The temperature required to produce males must be above 31.7C (89.1F) and below 34.5C (94.1F). This narrow temperature range is so limiting that as a result more females are born than males. The young alligator does not leave home for two years. A male alligator is not sexually mature until he is 10 years old but after that he mates on an annual basis – or as often as the females will let him.
Saltwater crocodiles have been protected in Australia's tropical north since the 1970s. Subsequently, their numbers have increased along with a number of human fatalities.
Like the alligator, a frisky male crocodile disappears underwater and bellows with his mouth closed, causing the water to vibrate and projecting an infrasonic signal to attract receptive females.
When the object of his carnal desire arrives, the crocodile approaches her with a wide mouth. After a perfunctory courtship consisting of head bumping and mutual mooing, the male will attempt to connect sexually. If their relative positions make this too awkward, it has been claimed that the male may take hold of his partner in his mouth and flip her over onto her back before having his way with her in the 'missionary position'. His penis has a fleshy head and a cartilaginous shaft and it protrudes from the wall of his cloaca directly in front of the opening on the belly side. He wastes little time inserting this into her cloaca. It is common for a male to mate any number of times with the same female to ensure her eggs become fertilised. Crocodiles can live to the age of at least 80.
ANNELIDS (SEE WORMS)
Anteaters live in South America. Academics call them edentate animals, meaning they are toothless – a gummy plight they share with sloths and armadillos. There are three subspecies of order Edentata: the giant anteater; the tamandua (smaller, arboreal, collared); the silky or pygmy anteater, the only living species of the genus Cyclopes (arboreal, two-toed with big round eyes).
If you were suddenly confronted by a male and a female anteater, it would be difficult to tell them apart. An adult male is 20 per cent bigger than the female but how do you know that you're looking at an adult? The only water they drink is what they can get from the early morning dew and from the ants they eat. Although an anteater has no teeth, it has a tongue that can extend 24in. Its sense of smell is 40 times more sensitive than that of humans.
Their average temperature rarely rises above 91F (32.7C). They are solitary creatures and extremely docile. They spend 15 hours of every day sleeping. In the wild an anteater waits until he is four years old before he takes up the mating game. He exercises self-control until after the heat of the summer and indulges in copulation only when the females are in the state of oestrus. After a gestation period of approximately 180 days, the female balances herself in an upright position supported by her tail, on the principle that a tripod will not fall over, and then gives birth to a single cub.
As soon as birthing is complete, the youngster climbs onto his mother's back and stays there for a month or so before daring to venture over the side onto solid ground. The cub suckles for six months and does not scout for food independently until about two years old.
Ants and termites: how do you spot the difference? Ants belong to the scientific classification called order Hymenoptera, family Formicidae. They have compound eyes. They can also store formic acid in their bodies that they squirt in self-defence. If this acid hits a human it can incapacitate for hours.
Ants eat anything whereas termites are fussy and confine their dietary requirements to chewing wood and grass. They are also farmers. Over 200 species of ant have evolved to domesticate fungi in the same way as humans farm cows. They milk them, and when the fungi are getting past it, the ants eat them.
Termites belongs to the order Isoptera. Though they are eyeless, rather uncannily they are attracted to the blue end of the spectrum. The most obvious way to tell the difference between an ant and a termite is by examining its life cycle – that is, if you've got the time. An ant goes through a complete metamorphosis, e.g. egg, larva, pupa, adult, whereas a termite doesn't have the pupa stage. It goes from egg to nymph to adult.
A queen termite can lay 11,000,000 eggs every year for up to 15 years. Once the male ant has copulated, like the drone bee, he is doomed to die.
'The chimpanzees, in the zoos, do it, Some courageous kangaroos do it ...
(LYRICS BY Cole Porter)
Monkeys have tails. Apes don't. Barbary apes are not apes at all – they are macaques. There are only 19 species of ape, six of which are the great apes, the rest are gibbons and siamangs. Great apes include bonobos, gorillas, chimpanzees and orang-utans – they are described below, together with the gibbons.
Bonobos (pygmy chimpanzees), first discovered in 1929, are among our closest relatives. They share 98 per cent of our genetic profile. In their 1996 book Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence, Richard Wrangham and Dale Peterson wrote: 'Chimpanzees and Bonobos both evolved from the same ancestor that gave rise to humans, and yet the Bonobo is one of the most peaceful, unaggressive species of mammals living on the earth today. They have evolved ways to reduce violence that permeate their entire society. They show us that the evolutionary dance of violence is not inexorable.'
The slogan, 'Make love – not war' could have been written by a bonobo, were he to have been given a typewriter, an endless supply of paper and a few million years. To describe these pink-lipped apes with their neatly-parted head of hair as promiscuous is an understatement. Whereas a human may shake hands to say hello, bonobos dispense with the formalities and cut straight to the sex act. If there's a dispute, they resolve it by having sex. If there's a fight, they break off to have sex. If someone does them a favour such as giving them a tasty tit-bit, they respond by ... well, you get the idea. No quarrel between a couple of males lasts too long. They soon make up by standing back to back and rubbing their scrotums against each other.
They tongue-kiss, engage in oral sex, and never hesitate if there's the slightest chance of a spot of mutual masturbation. These friendly apes even have a strange 'penis fencing' ritual.
As for the sex act itself, missionaries may have got the idea for their favourite position by observing bonobos and not the other way round. The only taboo for them (bonobos – not missionaries) is sex between a mother and her son. That does not necessarily exclude an Oedipus amongst them somewhere.
The clitoris of the female bonobo is large – three times the size of her human equivalent. It is prominent and waggles provocatively when she walks. Tribadism is common. Tribadism – or 'tribbing' as it is sometimes called – is a form of non-penetrative sex in which two females (ape or human) rub their vulvas together, often, though not exclusively, in the 'scissoring' position. Frottage is similar but involves any part of the body that can be rubbed or stimulated for sexual pleasure. Whatever turns you on, rest assured, the bonobos thought of it first.
The females undergo oestrus for two to three weeks. The gestation period is about 240 days and the babies continue to suckle at their mothers' breasts for up to four years. Baby bonobos, like human tiny tots, are immensely playful. The status of a male bonobo within a troop is dependent on his mother's place in the hierarchy. The male is something of a mother's boy, running to her for protection when in trouble, and remaining bonded to her well into adult life. One theory is that bonobos never fully grow into adulthood, a condition described by learned sociologists as neotony.
Chimpanzees: Scientists reckon that approximately five million years ago humans and chimpanzees shared a common ancestor. The DNA of a chimpanzee is nearly 95 per cent identical to that of a human being. The males band together forming close bonds in hunting groups. The same goes with chimpanzees.
They congregate around the Congo River in Africa where their home territories overlap, protected by the females. Like their close cousins the bonobos, chimps can walk upright on two legs when they feel so inclined. The males reach sexual maturity between the ages of 8 and 10, by which time they have developed unusually large testicles. It is suggested that these have evolved due to their polyandrous and highly promiscuous mating habits (see Polyandry). Oestrus in females begins at about the age of 10 but they don't become capable of reproducing until after they've reached 13. Then they seldom give birth more than once every four or five years. This slow reproductive rate keeps the population of chimps at a worryingly low level. When a female is in a state of oestrus, her vulva swells for about 10 days, before gradually subsiding. At this time she is in fertile readiness and she makes sure the males know it.
Their nests, which they build in trees, are constructed with twigs and leaves cradling a mattress made of moss. The females take charge of nests, often building two: one for the day and the other in which to sleep at night.
Notwithstanding the fact that a mother chimp does her best to protect her babies, an adult male will kill baby chimps if he is not certain they are his own. To reduce the chance of this happening, the female tends to mate with all the males in the troop, starting with the most dominant of the Lotharios and working her way down to the fumbling novices. By doing this, none of the males can be absolutely sure whether or not he is the father of the baby that is ultimately conceived.
A chimpanzee is a nifty ape. When he makes love, which he does fairly frequently, it only takes a few seconds of his valuable time.
At the time of oestrus, female chimps' genital areas turn pink. The female offers herself from a crouching position and copulation takes place. Within 15 seconds, the male ejaculates. Almost immediately, another male takes his place. This continues until the first male has recovered sufficiently to engage again. This ritual can continue for 10 days.
Gibbons are an endangered species of ape. They are monogamous and are fiercely protective of their territory, usually comprising about 25 acres. Small and arboreal, they are tremendous gymnasts, capable of leaping 40ft from one tree to another while travelling at 35mph. This ability to jump great distances between high branches of trees is called brachiating.
Excerpted from Birds, Bees and Educated Fleas by Bruce Montague. Copyright © 2015 Bruce Montague. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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