Published Feb. 12, 2021
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 affection, dating and relationships aren’t exclusive to humans. Discover some fascinating fun facts about hearts, courtship and mating in the animal kingdom.
For humans, hearts are synonymous with love. 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.
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 down to a normal size afterward.
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.
Ostriches are also known for their showy courtship displays. To attract a female’s attention, the male bird approaches with his wings outstretched. He then drops to the ground and begins waving his wings back and forth while bobbing his head from side to side. Dazzling!
When it comes to attracting a mate, it often comes down to looks.
As an orangutan male reaches maturity, he begins to grow long hair and develop fleshy cheek pads called flanges. These traits appear prominently in some males more than others, and females seem to prefer the males with big flanges and long hair.
Though long-term relationships are 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 miles. Once they’ve found a mate, the songs change. Monogamous 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.
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. Male gentoo penguins scour the frozen shorelines 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 are generally monogamous.
Another mostly monogamous bird, macaws show their affection by rubbing their large beaks together and offering each other soft pecks. When the feelings really get serious, these feathered friends start sharing meals, literally! Macaws reinforce their pair bonds by regurgitating food to one another, just as parent birds do for their hatchlings. So it seems the old adage may be true — couples that eat together, stay together!
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