~ to be read in a British accent ~
From shit-throwing hippos to tidy bowerbirds to dancing seahorses, members of the animal kingdom are always busy trying to get busy. Now that we know that non-human animal business isn’t always for the betterment of the best genes, we can feel good about anthropomorphizing their antics for our own amusement. Funny as our fellow creatures seem, humans are equally ridiculous in courtship. I’m sure you’ve questioned yourself from time to time.
This is the second in a series looking at what animals can teach us to help us all make some “meaningful connections” in our lives.
Part 2: Courtship: Make-up, gifts and dancing
Evolution has led many a creature to some very odd behaviour, and courtship is some of the oddest. In courtship we often present our best qualities in order to be objectified, scrutinized and evaluated based on a set of arbitrary, subjective criteria of which we have no knowledge.
Like a frog at a dog show, you may stand no chance. Still, don’t be discouraged: there’s a plethora of different ways of getting another being to notice you for simple conversation, sexual activities and/or something more long-term.
Most species have it easier than we do, since they rely on one specific attribute or behaviour to impress. From dancing to gifts to just looking good there are many great examples we can learn from. (Just don’t take any advice from the hippo, which projects a mixture of urine and feces at potential suitors, or the porcupine, which cautiously urinates at a potential mate from a safe distance.)
While much of the animal kingdom obliges one sex to be the courter, there are many that are rather more modern in their approach. Both male and female Greater Flamingos go through a process of tinting their feathers and then both parade around in a bizarre group march in order to impress each other.
Some aren’t so picky. Bonobos don’t discriminate based on age or gender identity and often have expansive, socially enriching orgies. Regardless of social function or status, bonobos often go from picking insects out of hair to a rumble and a tumble with ease every one or two hours.
Some courtships are long affairs, like a great date night that lasts hours but ends in nervous sweats at the door. Seahorses go through almost eight hours of a watery dance before they make any commitments, holding tails all the while.
Yet my favourite in all this is the Gentoo Penguin. It’s never easy finding the right gift for someone you fancy. This penguin scours pebble beaches in Antarctica in search of the smoothest stone they can find, and presents the prize to the one they’ve got their eye on.
The best we can learn from the animal kingdom when it comes to courtship is that if you feel your particular approach isn’t working, you’re never out of options to choose from. Will you be a colourful flamingo, a shy seahorse, a laissez faire bonobo or a really good gift giver? The great thing about people is you’re always a sexy beast to someone.
This column first appeared in the Leveller, Vol. 7, No. 3 (Nov/Dec 2014).