Courtship and Mating

Two to Tango

Once a mate has been singled out, mammals may display one of a variety of courtship dances. Platypuses swim after each other in a tight circle, gently tugging at and nuzzling each other. Male elephants are affectionate, gentle and surprisingly delicate with their favorite females during their long courtship. But when the female comes into season, both males and females become extremely passionate. The female will alternately tempt the male with caresses from her trunk and provocative body language, and then resist his advances before finally copulating.

Things can get a little rougher in other species. Dolphins often bite and scratch each other, and rhinoceroses may gouge each other to the point of serious injury while copulating. In some primates, the entire sex act may last only seconds, while other species, such as black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes), may remained locked together for up to an hour. Some mammals mate only once; others favor serial copulation. Shaw's jird (Meriones shawi), a small African desert rodent, has been observed copulating 224 times in under two hours, and a female baboon in heat was once recorded as mating 93 times with three different partners over her five-day estrus. While insectivores, rodents and bats tend to go their separate ways after copulating, in some species a close bond develops between the male and female that goes well beyond the estrus period. After a long courtship and subsequent mating, coyotes may pair-bond for years, sometimes even life. Monogamy is also practiced by the South American titi monkey, although in this case it doesn't prevent the monogamous male from copulating with other females when an opportunity arises.