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February 21, 2019

Mating in the wild is not for the faint-hearted

SURVIVAL FOR THE FITTEST: Animals lock horns in a serious fight for mating rights.
SURVIVAL FOR THE FITTEST: Animals lock horns in a serious fight for mating rights.

Among animals, the chief purpose of copulation, or sex – to use a more popular word – is primarily for procreation. In humans, not all acts of intercourse are necessarily designed to the specific end of producing an offspring. But sex has been used in humans as a tool of bargain, downright trickery to attain certain objectives, or bribery. In human species, and in few amongst the higher primates, there is no mating season and therefore, the various purchases of favours using sex can be done as opportunities demand.

This idea is not lost within the animal world – even though there are seasons where the females will not be laying eggs, and the males will not be producing sperms. Take an example of the sunbirds. For those who are not in the know, sunbirds are slightly larger than the humming birds – the smallest of the bird species. Because the sunbird and the humming bird are of the same family, we do not have humming birds in Kenya. So, picking an example of the sunbird will relate to most people since the sunbird is easily seen hopping from flower to flower collecting nectar. Flowers are found in the affluent homes with flowery gardens, as well as in the rural areas when most plants are flowering.

Sunbirds are territorial – choosing their territorial grounds carefully, and guarding the area violently against other males. But even if it is not during the mating season, if a female happens to pass by, she will be allowed to feed on the flowers within the territorial grounds, and time to time the male will try to mount the female. This may be understood as to bribe the female to stay on until the mating season comes. To the male – when the real time comes – when copulation will be intended for ultimate price of passing on his genes to the next generation, he will not waste time looking for a mate. He will be having one in store.

As is very normal, not all males are equipped well with the right tools of trade that would make them win every time mating competition takes place. There are winners and losers. But one would be forgiven to assume the loser will wait until the next season to try his luck. Well, sometimes it happens, especially when the age of the loser puts him in a pole position. He may be bigger next time round, or his competitor will have died. But some do not wait until the next season.

Downright trickery comes into play to enable the don Juan male to get his way. During the mating time for many of the fish species, the fertilisation takes place outside the body. The male mounts the female and positions himself close to the female cloaca. The female lays the eggs, and when the eggs come out, the male produces the sperms to fertilise the eggs.

Now, when Atlantic salmon fish loses the battle to own a mate, he carefully lays next to the lady of the winner. While she lays the eggs and the winner salmon sprays the eggs with his sperms, the loser male does the same at the exact same moment. Although the direction of his spray will be somewhat the wrong angle to the female cloaca, somehow there will be hope that some of his sperms will find a target, missed by the boss. And he will go home with some face, having done what he had to do to remain relevant.

It is interesting to note there are some animal species that do not have to fight for mating rights. They do not have to find a female in order to mate and reproduce. In Kenya, we would probably pick the sea urchin, easily seen on the coastal beaches. If you look carefully at the sea urchin, it would be a miracle if the fish were to mate, within the conventional style, where it is “boy-meet-girl” scene.

Their whole bodies are full of very sharp spines. These are some of the animals that do not require any sort of 'meeting'. The female lays eggs as she wishes and where she wishes. The male releases his sperms and lets the sea's current do the rest. It will be a chance meeting for the egg and the sperm. But seeing as the population still exists, then the chances are many.

Poll of the day