St Valentine’s Day in the African savanna

9th February 2015   •  By James Bailey

Lioness and cub

With St Valentine’s Day around the corner it was only right to share a blog on courtship according to the lives of the animals featured on Fascinating Africa.

Courtship comes in many different guises. From the gentleness of two elephants who caress one another by intertwining their trunks or a male leopard tortoise that repeatedly rams into the female to gain her attention

Courtship is the behaviour which some animals demonstrate to attract a mate. The desired result being mating and eventually reproduction. Such behaviour is usually started by the male with the female either accepting or rejecting him.

The actual courtship is a varied practice. On the one hand it could be very simple with the animal only being required to make physical contact to secure his mate.  Or it could be a far more complicated affair relying on a mixture of communication signals.

The male scorpion’s courtship ritual is certainly a complicated affair. He will initiate a mating dance by griping the female’s pincers with his own. This enables him to move her around an area for between 30 and 60 minutes so that he can manoeuvre her over a capsule of sperm. Once she is in position he will drop her on to it so that her weight releases the sperm into her genital opening.

As far as dancing for a mate goes, the male ostrich is definitely Lord of the Dance. The Ostriches’ mating dance, known as “kantling”, is quite spectacular. The male will approach the female with feathers raised before dropping to his knees and rocking from side to side as he waves his wings and twists his neck.

Ostriches and chicks

When courtship is successful the animal follows through to realise its biological imperative of reproducing. However, it’s not plain sailing. For some animals such as the lion conception doesn’t come straight away. Lions will mate continuously for four days and nights averaging 2.2 times an hour with each coupling lasting approximately 20 seconds. For every cub that reaches the age of one the mother would have mated 3,000 times. This is clearly quite something and the male sometimes struggles to see the job through to the end. In fact a he may become so exhausted after three to four days of mating he can lose interest which gives other males the opportunity to takeover.

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Discover some of the other fascinating courtship and sexual reproduction facts of African savanna animals.