It’s that time of year when all the shops get showered in red and pink, hearts are strewn about with wild abandon and the humans of the world either welcome Valentine’s Day with open arms, or cower from it in abject fear.
Whichever you do, we’ve got a couple of non-saccharine-filled stories of love in the wild to counteract any overly consumerism-based flurries of love and affection.
Anybody who’s been lucky enough to go into the African bush will have seen giant termite mounds scattered amongst the iconic acacia trees, some almost as tall as the trees themselves. What you may not know is that, deep in the belly of those mounds, a strange little love affair is going on.
Once a year, on a humid evening around Valentine’s Day (this may be completely untrue, but Poetic Licence trumps Scientific Fact, for the story’s sake), a bunch of reproductive termites (called alates) fly from the mounds. These are the ‘virgin queens’, who rapidly shed their wings as soon as they land. Here – if all goes according to plan – she meets her mate for life and they crawl off and bury themselves in the sand, where they will remain their entire lives, producing an entire dynasty of termites, who’ll build the mound above their heads.
And by saying ‘produce a dynasty’, we’re not over-exaggerating. This huge queen – her body can get to several inches in length – lies next to her much smaller king and lays an egg approximately every three seconds for the next fifteen years, while being tended to by her gazillion children. Those eggs will hatch into workers, soldiers, and occasional alates.
She’s not the most attractive creature during this time, bloated, with juices bubbling beneath her skin’s surface. Her legs are dwarfed by her enormous body as her babies lick the sweat off her and bring her food and the workers carry away her eggs to hatch in nurseries elsewhere in the mound. We’ll save you from a picture of her, and show you a picture of a giraffe peering over a termite mound instead.
One can only hope that the love doesn’t die between this captive couple who never leave their hot little love nest beneath the earth … and that they have plenty to talk about. With 164 250 000 children, we’re sure they do!
African Penguin Love
Those sweet li’l birds in their tuxedos? They, too, find a mate and stick to them. After spending months apart at sea, when the time comes for breeding, they return to the same colony, and often even the same nest, to get some lovin’ and make some more penguins.
Once the penguins are old enough to go out on their own (much like human children), they head off into the sea to adventure for up to two years and then return to settle down, find the perfect partner and, like their parents before them, make more penguins!
Penguin monogamy is not unique to African penguins. A breeding pair of Magellanic penguins, who were tagged and studied, stayed together an astounding sixteen years. During this time they spent huge chunks of time apart, travelling over 200 000 miles on solo trips. Each breeding season, they returned to the same nest and produced a bunch of new chicks. Now that’s love.
Mating Rituals & Dancing
While long-lasting, monogamous relationships are great, they’re not for everyone. But whether they’re in for the long haul or just a once-off liaison, there are some pretty spectacular mating rituals in nature, like the male ostrich’s slick dance moves.
Then there's the slightly 'ugh' example of giraffes. Believe it or not, the male giraffe has a little taste of the female’s urine, before deciding whether or not to mate with her. And no, this is not some weird fetish, it’s all part of the science … He’s checking her fertility levels. We’ll spare you the pictures of that, too, and just show you the sweet result of the happy union.
Japanese Puffer Fish
Moving on swiftly, it’s not only African animals that have spectacular mating rituals. The little Japanese Puffer Fish creates an incredible work of art in the sand, using only his fins, to attract the female. And this one’s for Women’s Lib – once the female has laid her eggs in the beautiful nest, she leaves Dad to sort out the kids and heads off into the wild blue yonder!
Check out these Andean flamingos if you’re looking for some natural pink inspiration on how to catch the attention of your desired date this Valentine’s Day.
After The Fact
And, when the dances are danced and the rituals done; when you've found the perfect creature whose stripes complement yours; get hold of us and bring your soul mate for an incredible safari!