Animal Magnetism and Relationships

Getting to the Heart of Relationships in the Animal Kingdom

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Boxes of chocolates, bouquets of flowers, heart-shaped cards — expressions of love and romance are what Valentine’s Day is all about.

But the ideas of love, dating and relationships aren’t exclusive to the human world. Discover some fascinating fun facts about hearts, courtship and mating in the animal kingdom.

Straight From the Heart

For humans, hearts are synonymous with love and Valentine’s Day. But many animals have hearts that are specially suited to their size, shape and behavior.

African elephants have the largest heart of any land mammal, weighing on average between 26.5 to 46.3 pounds. The largest heart in all the animal kingdom belongs to the blue whale, whose heart can grow to the size of a small car and weigh up to 1,300 pounds.

Giraffes need an incredibly strong heart to pump blood throughout their long, lanky bodies. In fact, a giraffe’s heart generates twice the blood pressure of a human heart.

For a cheetah to achieve its incredible bursts of speed, its heart rate will more than double — accelerating from 120 bpm to 250 bpm — in mere seconds.

And it seems that some snakes really love … eating, that is. A python’s heart will actually increase in size, swelling up to 40 percent before a meal then shrinking back down again afterward.

Animal Magnetism

Like humans, animals have developed interesting rituals for courtship.

Male and female seahorses swim side by side, encircling one another and holding tails before engaging in their “courtship dance.” After the days-long display is over, it’s the male that carries the eggs in his pouch and eventually gives birth.

Humans may be intimidated when approaching a potential mate for the first time, but male spotted hyenas are putting their lives at risk. Female hyenas call the shots in the courtship because they are significantly stronger and more aggressive than males. So when a male hyena approaches a new female, he does so very cautiously and retreats as soon as she notices him. He will then only try to mate when he’s reasonably confident he won’t be attacked.

While humans may sprits on cologne before a big date, ring-tailed lemurs prefer something a little more pungent. Male lemurs engage in “stink fights” by rubbing scent from their glands onto their tails then waving them at each other to waft the smell. The winner is the lemur that can stink out his opponent and catch a female’s attention.

When it comes to attracting a mate, it often comes down to looks.

Peacocks are known for their showy plumage. Males fan out their brilliant tail feathers and strut about to attract females, who seem to prefer the male with the biggest and brightest train.

As an orangutan male reaches maturity, he begins to grow long hair and develop fleshy cheek pads called flanges. These traits appear more prominently in some males more than others, and in certain cases not at all. But females definitely show preference to the males with big flanges and long hair.

Status: In a Relationship

Though long-term relationships are pretty rare in the animal kingdom, many species are able to manage monogamy, mating either for life or at least extended periods.

As they swing through the forests in search of a potential partner, gibbons sing using loud calls that can be heard for long distances. But once they’ve found a mate, the songs change. Gibbons are mainly monogamous, and mated pairs will sing elaborate daily duets — each individual with its own part — to let other gibbons in the area know they’re off the market.

When it’s time to take a relationship to the next level, humans aren’t the only ones who declare their intensions by presenting their mate with a big rock. But while people prefer diamonds and other precious gems, male gentoo penguins scour for pretty pebbles to win over the females. If she accepts, she’ll place the pebble inside her nest, or she may choose to wait for a better offer. Either way, once a female chooses her male, gentoos generally mate for life.

And nothing says commitment quite like building a big home together. Bald eagles will build large nests that average about 5 feet in diameter. Nesting pairs will often return to the same nest year after year, building on a little bit each time, so nests can eventually become enormous. In fact, the largest bald eagle nest ever found was more than 9 feet wide, 20 feet high and weighed more than 2 tons!

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