February 8, 2016

The Birds & The Bees: Alaskan Animals

The mating strategies of some animals are definitely bizarre.  From delayed implantation, to threesomes, to polygamy and fighting for females, animals make their own rules. But whether an animal is faithful to their partner or promiscuous, it all comes down to survival and passing on their genes. Intrigued? In honour of upcoming Valentine's Day, read on for a few of my fave Alaskan animal reproduction "spermatids". 

Warning: These facts may or may not put disturbing images in your head.

The Birds & the Bees: Alaskan Animals

Porcupine: While working at the Zoo, I always got the questions, "How exactly do porcupines do it?", or similarly from kids, "How do porcupines hug?"  My go-to answer?  "Very carefully."  But that's only half correct - their mating strategy is a little more complex than that. First off, females are only interested in sex 8 to 12 hours a year!  Males will fight to breed with a female (ouch!) and then once they win the battle, they will walk up to the female and pee on her.  If she's not receptive, she'll shake it off and walk away.  BUT if he's caught her at the right time, she'll curl up her tail to cover the quills on her back and the male will mount her from behind.  Once the deed begins, she will force him to mate with her many times until he is exhausted. If he is too tired to continue, she will move on to the next male in line. 

The Birds & the Bees: Alaskan Animals

Bald eagle: Ok, so this mating strategy isn't as graphic as the porcupines', however, it does take some serious skill. Bald eagles are monogamous and mate for life. The suitability to mate is demonstrated with spectacular aerial displays - climbing steeply for 100 feet or more, then locking talons and rolling and somersaulting before plumetting earthward, pulling up sharply before hitting the ground. Then, after this wonderful display, breeding takes place on a nearby branch, lasting only 2 minutes at most. All that work for 2 minutes.

The Birds & the Bees: Alaskan Animals

Dall sheep: Adult males (rams) live in bachelor bands, separate from the females (ewes) beyond mating season.  The horn clashing that rams are so well known for doesn’t result from fights over possession of ewes, but is a means of establishing order. These clashes occur throughout the year, but occur more frequently just before the rut (breeding season) when rams are moving among the ewes and meet unfamiliar rams of similar horn size. The sound of the horn clashes can be heard a mile away. Here's where it gets a little disturbing...  It is said that the penis of the ram is like a poker formed of hard gristle that does not rely on blood pressure. During sex, it rotates rapidly like a propeller, spraying semen around the cervix.  Ya, barf is right.

Brown bear: Bears mate in the spring, but due to delayed implantation, they do not get pregnant until the late fall when they enter into hibernation.  This mechanism allows mammals to time the birth of their youngsters with favorable environmental conditions.  In order words, if going into hibernation a sow (female) is fat and healthy enough to support cubs, she will become pregnant.  Brown bears are considered serial monogamous, meaning they have one mate at a time, but several each year.  However, it is said that threesomes do occur, each male stands aside waiting his turn while the other enjoys the female's sexual favours.

The Birds & the Bees: Alaskan Animals

Red Fox: Fox scream at full volume to attract partners (how annoying).  Scent glands produce a "foxy" smell to indicated readiness for copulation.  During copulation, the male's penis swells and locks inside the female for 10-30 minutes to ensure he gets the job done.

cross fox

It is interesting to note that what is a treasured value in many human cultures, monogamy is very rare in the animal kingdom.  Of the roughly 5000 species of mammals, only 5% are known to form lifelong pairs (this includes beavers, wolves and foxes). Birds, such as bald eagles and great horned owls, are also known to partake in monogamy. But, even the animals that mate for life will replace a mate if the other dies.  Remember, it's alllllll about the survival.

You're welcome for these random facts. Hopefully they'll spark some conversation this Valentine's Day.

What did you think about these facts? Did you learn something new? Or did they gross you out?

*This post was originally published in February 2014. It's a well known fact that I love animals, and Alaskan animals especially hold a special place in my heart. This post was one of my favourite that I've shared on T.O. & fro, so I thought it was worth resharing.  All facts in this post were included in a wine tasting event called "Birds & the Bees", now held annually at the Alaska Zoo.



  1. As long as there are no actual photos of copulating animals, it's all good. Thanks for sharing this information, Mar!

  2. I found this...interesting. Haha very informative.


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