2001-Mon Dec 05 09:46:04 EST 2016
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Valentine's Day can make February feel like it's all about love. Did you have a date? Did you give or receive the right gift? When you see the lengths some animals go to, it might make you feel even worse in comparison. Fortunately, though, there are also many of our fellow creatures that don't make it at all difficult to measure up.
Humans aren't the only animals that go dancing as a prelude to romance, but for some it really takes stamina: Scorpions dance hand in hand — well, pincer in pincer — for up to two hours. The dance usually ends abruptly, though, because if the male overstays his welcome, the female may eat him.
For the albatross, two hours isn't nearly enough. Their courtship involves a complex dance number made up of preening, calling, bill-clacking and other fancy moves, in a unique sequence that's developed over time with an individual partner. They mate for life, so they take their time to get it right: Some court for up to two years before pairing off.
Love songs are not unique to humans either. When you hear a chorus of frogs or crickets, you're listening to suitors trying to attract a mate. Crickets actually play their music on a built-in instrument: A scraper on one wing rubs a hard rib with a serrated edge on the other, and the membranes of the wings vibrate to amplify the sound.
Even the lowly fruit fly uses music in a careful ritual to woo a female. The male follows her around, waiting till she signals that she's interested. Then he'll tap her gently and extend his wings and vibrate them to play a courtship song. (He also knows that foreplay is important: Did you know fruit flies have tongues?)
And that annoying buzzing of mosquitoes in the summer? It may be the sound of a love song. When a male and a female come together, they adjust the frequency of their wingbeats so they harmonize.
If you really want to put on a show, though, the bird of paradise will tell you that you need a stage. The male starts out in costume: He's got plumes and frills, feathers arranged like a skirt or a cape, and depending on the species, his tail may look like an expandable fan, an arrangement of twisted wires. His elaborate dance may even include flaring his feathers to look like a tutu.
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