By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
As you agonize to find the perfect gift for your sweetheart on Valentine’s Day, consider yourself lucky that you’re not some species in the animal kingdom.
Some male spiders have to perform bizarre dances to win over females. And some male birds are at the mercy of how much red feathering they have to attract a mate.
Humans at least can modify their apparel and take dancing lessons.
Wood County Park District Naturalist Jim Witter will present a program on Valentine stories from nature on Monday, at 7 p.m., in the W.W. Knight Nature Preserve in Perrysburg Township.
Parents need not worry – the program will be G-rated and will not include any awkward animal copulating videos.
But it will show some of the courtship behaviors of animals. Forget the box of chocolates. Some animals, such as male bluebirds have “feeding ceremonies,” where they prove to their love interest that they are good providers.
“In order to get her to stick around, it’s like, ‘Look at all the dragonflies I can catch,’” Witter said. Eagles sometimes exhibit that same behavior.
Some females in the animal kingdom are won over by an attractive male with a good singing voice. That’s the case with red-winged blackbirds.
“They do a lot of calling and chasing around back and forth,” Witter said. Experts covered up portions of the red patches on the males, and found that the females no longer fancied those males.
“Females tend to select males with larger red patches,” he said.
Frogs profess their love through croaking.
Usually it’s the male who pursues the female – but not always. Female cardinals have been known to sing to lure males.
Like humans, sometimes a male can woo a female with his homey habitat. “He needs the right territory and the most food,” Witter said. Otherwise the female may turn up her beak and look elsewhere for a more worthy mate.
The Bowerbird actually sets up “staging areas” while dating. The males keep neat houses in order to attract chicks. But like some humans, once the honeymoon is over the commitment to cleaning evaporates.
Also like humans, many animals stray from their mates for romance.
“Some birds aren’t as monogamous as scientists once thought,” Witter said.
Such is the case with red-winged blackbirds – once thought to be lifelong mates. Closer observation shows some sneaky behavior going on.
“While one male is busy driving off another one, a third one sneaks in” to the nest and gets busy with the female.
Believe it or not, Witter said paternity tests showed many of the birds had blended families, with the fathers often raising offspring of different dads.
Some mammals – like humans and elephants – invest a great deal of time and emotion in their offspring. Other creatures – like mayflies – not so much, since their life cycle last about one day.
With most animals, the females are responsible for keeping the eggs warm or tending to the youngsters, while the males acquire food for the family.
Like all species, some parents are devoted, and “sometimes the males will cut and run,” Witter said.
In some rare cases, the roles are reversed and the males take on the job of Mr. Mom. That would be the case with seahorses and spotted sandpipers, Witter said.
Some species are definitely busier breeders than others. What you’ve heard about rabbits is indeed true. “They are able to reproduce whenever.” And like most mammals, the moms are saddled with the kids. “The mother is stuck with the babies and the father just moves on,” Witter said.
With some species – like wolves and elephant seals – only the dominant males of the group get to breed with the females. The other males are doomed to unfulfilled lives (I just made that part up).
“Just a few males get to court all the females,” Witter said.
So as you agonize over chocolate or flowers, consider yourself lucky that you aren’t a praying mantis or a black widow spider trying to hook up with a mate. “Some females consume their partners,” Witter said.
But to be on the safe side, some chocolates or flowers might be a good idea.
Anyone wanting to attend the animal kingdom’s Valentine program may register by calling 419-353-1897 or go online at wcparks.org. The registration deadline is Saturday.