They’re NOT just having a cuddle!

The amazing love life of animals

From dancing flamingos and boxing kangaroos to dominant female hyenas – the mating behaviour of animals is more fascinating and varied than you might imagine! We took Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to reveal a few surprising facts about “the birds and the bees” ...

Impressive foreplay

The first rule of mating is: impress your partner! The animal kingdom is full of varied and creative flirting techniques, including colourful plumage, formidable antlers, and synchronised dance moves – enough to provide Berliners looking for love with plenty of inspiration for nights out on the town.

The sweet smell of romance

Scent also plays a key role in choosing a partner – after all, what’s more alluring than a sexy fragrance? Male Arabian camels are constantly sniffing the rear ends of the herd’s females to get a whiff of their pheromones. And if they’re still not sure, a quick taste of the urine lets them know if the time is right to make a move. Just to be on the safe side! Meanwhile, the intense-smelling liquid produced by male musk deer, which they spread throughout the forest, is so seductive that we humans even put it in our perfumes.

Sing when you’re winning

As well as an attractive appearance and an alluring scent, vocal prowess is another common flirting technique. And we’re not just talking about birds: humpback whales are just as famous for their serenading skills, and even the loud howls of gibbon are, in fact, a way of attracting a mate.

Gibbons
These small apes can sing impressive duets. Their calls, which sound like loud, high-pitched sirens, can travel great distances – even penetrating the densest jungle. Once a gibbon couple find each other, their wails and chatters swell and become more and more in tune as the duet goes on, developing into long series of verses. The more harmoniously these musical apes sing together, the better they understand each other as a couple.

(excerpt translated from Das Liebesleben der Tiere [Love in the Animal Kingdom] by Katharina von der Gathen and Anke Kuhl)

Fight for your love!

But what if competition turns up, jeopardising these seduction efforts? What if the guy next door has got his eye on your sweetheart? When hormones start running wild in the animal kingdom, the best advice is to take cover. From boxing kangaroos and rutting musk oxen to neck-slamming zebra stallions – finding the perfect partner often requires a display of strength.

Black rhinos
The rhino’s impressive horn (or two horns in the black rhino’s case) becomes a powerful weapon during mating season, when males battle it out for a partner. If two bulls on the search for love happen to cross each other’s path, the result is often a bloody confrontation. Lowering their heads, the rivals approach each other hesitantly at first, swinging their horns from side to side and pawing threateningly at the ground with their back feet. Suddenly, they both charge. The most serious of these encounters results in the death of one of the animals, as their sharp horns can leave deep, gaping wounds. Sometimes, however, the mere threat is enough, and the two bulls grind to a halt just before collision and turn away. With their poor eyesight, it is often only at close range that they can recognise and smell their opponent. Ultimately, they are satisfied to send a strong message to others that they are not to be messed with.

(excerpt translated from Das Liebesleben der Tiere [Love in the Animal Kingdom] by Katharina von der Gathen and Anke Kuhl)

Let’s talk about sex

Once the foreplay is over, the couple can get down to business: lions have sex up to 40 times a day, while bonobos use love-making to resolve conflicts. Perhaps Homo sapiens could learn a thing or two from the animal kingdom! Although there are other extremes: a female panda, for example, is only in the mood for two to three days of the year.

Echidnas
A female echidna likes to put potential suitors through their paces. Up to ten males line up behind her, forming a “love train” with the female at the head. The animals remain in this formation for weeks, with the males pursuing the female up hill and down dale, making their way through the trees and undergrowth in an exhausting display of stamina. Finally, to make sure she’s definitely getting the best of the bunch, the female has the males dig a “combat trench” around her where they fight it out like gladiators until only the strongest is left in the ring. With the ultimate winner selected, the female lies flat on the ground and allows the chosen one to raise her rear end and finally reach his destination!

(excerpt translated from Das Liebesleben der Tiere [Love in the Animal Kingdom] by Katharina von der Gathen and Anke Kuhl)

The love life of animals is fascinating in its diversity – from the faithful penguin to the promiscuous bonobo, and from female-dominated hyena packs to the sexual supremacy of male lions. But at the end of the day, the goal remains the same: to preserve and pass on one’s genes.

This Valentine’s Day, we spoke to Katharina von Gathen and Anke Kuhl about their wonderful book Das Liebesleben der Tiere (Love in the Animal Kingdom).
Whose idea was it to write this book and why?
Anke Kuhl: It was Katharina’s idea :-) 

Katharina von Gathen: I love animals, but they don’t feature at all in my professional life – which revolves around children, instead. I regularly visit primary schools on educational projects. When I talk to kids about human reproduction, like how a man and a woman make a baby and how it grows in the mummy’s tummy, they almost always ask about animals: “How do snakes have sex?”, “How do elephants not crush each other?”, and “How many babies can snails have?”. These questions led me to take a closer look at the love lives of animals: how they find a partner, how they mate, how they have children, and what sort of families they have. The diversity that I discovered is simply fascinating.
Are there any scenes from the book that you have witnessed for yourselves – either at a zoo or in the wild?
Katharina von Gathen: Of course, I’ve seen various beetles, bugs and toads squatting on top of each other, pairs of pigeons flapping about, and a horse mounting another horse in a field. But once you learn more about this topic and go through the world with open eyes and ears, you realise that every frog croak, every bellow in the wild, and every display of a peacock’s tail is really about finding “the one”.
One lightbulb moment I experienced while writing the book was finding out that the thing that hangs out the side of a male Arabian camel’s mouth during mating season isn’t its tongue (which is what it always looked like to me); it’s actually called a dulla and is an inflatable sack that the camel uses to make loud, bubbling noises that signal his willingness to mate.

Anke Kuhl:  You can’t miss the amorous antics of the bonobos at Frankfurt Zoo. And most insects aren’t very discreet, either, when it comes to reproduction. I also had a funny experience when I was on holiday in the South of France a few years ago. I was sitting with my family on the terrace and we kept hearing really loud panting and moaning, which we assumed was one of the neighbours. Later we found out the noises were actually coming from these male tortoises that the landlord kept on the property and who were struggling to mount the females. That was bizarre!
Are there any tips we could learn from observing the love lives of other animals?
Katharina von Gathen: Animals put an awful lot of effort into finding a partner. Whales sing, flamingos dance, birds of paradise put on dazzling displays of colour, silkworms give off pheromones, and musk oxen go all out in a head-to-head battle. People are no different in this respect: they dress up on a Saturday night, douse themselves in perfume, and show off their moves on the dancefloor. There are also occasional scuffles between rivals for someone’s affection. All of this is really no different to what we see in the animal kingdom.
But I’m very happy that much of our behaviour is different to other animals’ – I wouldn’t want to trade places with an Adactylidium mite or a praying mantis, for example!

Anke Kuhl:  As I was doing the illustrations, I just kept thinking: “It’s incredible how varied animals’ love lives are!” And it’s all just accepted without question. Humans could certainly benefit from greater acceptance of all the various ways that it’s possible to live and love together.
Which three species found in your book would you combine to create your dream partner?
Katharina von Gathen: I would take the creative puffer fish to start, as he would woo me with beautiful works of art, then I would like to live in a tight-knit community like that of female elephants, and finally I would share childcare duties with a male emperor penguin.

Anke Kuhl:  My dream partner would dance like a flamingo, sing like a humpback whale, and massage my head like a long-tailed macaque!
Thank you both very much!

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