Article: Tardigrades, Sex, and the Animal Kingdom

Can we just collectively agree that tardigrades should be the microscopic mascot of the sex world? Not only are tardigarades able to survive in pretty much any environment (including space), hibernate for over 30 years, and generally rock the term ‘water bear’ but they also apparently have marathon cuddle-sex sessions.

Squish.

That’s right—according to a study from November, which is currently doing rounds on social media, looked at bisexual tardigrades and found that their mating practices involved mutual stimulation for well up to an hour before semen was ejaculated in to the body of one of the tardigrades.

This is pretty damned awesome, and just acts as further testament to why we should all be showing tardigrades more love, but it also got me wondering—what other interesting mating habits are out there in the animal world?

So let’s get our zoological mind-set on and look at some of the most unusual and interesting mating habits that the animal kingdom has to offer!

Spotted Hyenas

Long term followers of my Twitter will no doubt realize just how fascinated I am by the mating habits of the Spotted Hyena. In spotted hyena society females are generally the more dominant of the sexes. They are larger, more muscular, and tend to take on leadership roles with more assertiveness (anthropomorphisms, I know, but a useful analogy nonetheless).

This penchant towards perceived ‘aggression’ in female hyenas is due to a healthy dose of androgen given to female cubs in the womb, which allows them to take on their own dominant features. It also gives them a 7 inch clitoris. Go figure.

This huge clitoris acts very similarly to how we perceive the penis—getting erect, having its own penile spines, and coming with what scientists have termed as ‘pseudo-scrotum’. This mega clit makes mating difficult for spotted hyenas but it also makes rape physically impossible, as female hyenas must voluntarily retract their clitoris if a male is to successfully enter her.

As if this didn’t already sound badass enough it’s been shown that older females tend to have a preference for young and virile men, conjuring up all sorts of images of a matriarchal domme archetype. So if you’re a woman and you’re wanting to feel a hardcore confidence boost in the bedroom why not try to embody some of the traits of a spotted hyena? Your man may be laughing at first but he’ll soon find that the jokes on him.

The only downside: Childbirth.

Garden Snails

I love snails. They’re actually one of my favourite animals of all time. So imagine how I felt when I found out that snail sex is helluva violent. Like piercing-the-skin-with-an-arrow violent. Sure, it’s technical term is a ‘love dart’ but these darts are far less affectionate then they sound.

Snails are hermaphroditic—having both female and male sex organs. When two snails come together one snail thrusts a ‘love dart’ in to its partner’s body, which is coated in a mucus that helps encourage the female reproductive organs of the darted snail to more readily store sperm.

There’s no love in this relationship, either. Once this mating process is done with the darted snail has been shown to be less likely to mate again and there’s even evidence that snails try to evolve counter tactics to defend against being darted. These darts may also drastically reduce the life span of the darted snail.

No thank you.

Snails are less cute when you learn about them.

New Mexican Whiptail

The New Mexican Whiptail is a species of lizard with a very interesting set of sexual rituals. Found in the southern United States and northern Mexico, these lizards are parthenogenic and are the result of the Striped Whiptail Lizard and the Western Whiptail Lizard interbreeding.

Such cross-species interaction creates a species of all-female lizards that essentially create their own eggs and propagate their species without the use of sperm.

This particular trait isn’t entirely uncommon, but what is peculiar is that this species of lizard still chooses to get together and embark upon elaborate mating rituals amongst each other.

Dubbed ‘lesbian lizards’ as a result of this, the New Mexican Whiptail stands as testament to the fact that what the man-and-woman mating norms we have considered to be ‘natural’ are actually far more complex when we look to nature itself.

These lizards are iconic for some.

Galapagos Tortoises

Galapagos Tortoises like to indulge in two clichés when it comes to love making. The first being ‘size matters’ and the second being ‘may the best man win’.

When Galapagos Giant Tortoises want to mate males will rise up on their legs and begin to literally size each other up—stretching their necks to see who is the tallest. This mating competition may feel like a tall tale bur it’s been well observed and even involves the two widening their mouths in an effort to strain even further.

Sex itself is a noisy affair, involving rhythmic grunts and bellows (Youtube it if you’re really curious).

It’s also really not recommended that you interrupt these tortoises during mating. The result is as hilarious as it is alarming (and understandable too).

These guys really stick their neck out to get laid.

Hippos

Two Girls, One Cup may have freaked out a good portion of the internet but it might just be a hippo’s idea of a wet dream.

Y’see when a male hippo is trying to attract a mate he will urinate and defecate simultaneously in order to mark out their territory and gain the interest of the opposite sex.

But a touch of feces alone isn’t enough for hippos. Instead the male begins to use his tail to fling the fecal matter around up to two meters away!

This act is called ‘dung showering’ and a male’s talent at it can often make or break a potential mating session. If female hippos approve of this display then they will then reciprocate—firing out their own shower of dung in an act of ‘submissive defecation’.

The couple then proceed to mate in the water, in order to work around their weight, because hippos are nothing if not resourceful.

Love can be shit, but that isn’t always a bad thing.

This list could go on indefinitely but it’s suffice to say that many animals challenge our idea of what constitutes ‘normal’ sexual behavior. Oftentimes sex can be a violent, complicated, and painful act.

But the tender mating rituals of the tardigrade remind us that this isn’t always the case. Sometimes sex is mutual stimulation involving a cushy hug, and it’s just as important to remember this too when looking at mating in the wild.

  • As a nature nerd, I loved this article. Actually knew about some of it before too. Great job.