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Monday, August 03, 2020

Why the animal kingdom is no different – when dating and mating

While some might take their girls up to their palatial penthouse apartments others with biceps, like bull elephants in musth, bash up anyone who goes near their chosen one.

Written by Ranjit Lal | New Delhi | Published: July 5, 2020 6:50:30 am
Watch me soar: Gadwalls exchanging flying kisses mid-air. (Photo: Ranjit Lal)

Most guys think they know how to woo the girl of their dreams. Some serenade girls with guitars under their balconies (or spout mushy poetry), others strut around in tight T-shirts flexing their biceps and showing off their abs. Yet others spray themselves with aftershave, drive around in Lamborghinis (usually leased) and buy expensive jewellery (or take the girls to obscenely expensive restaurants). There are those, usually bulging with biceps, who goes berserk (like bull elephants in musth) and bash up anyone and everyone who comes anywhere near their chosen one. Some might even take their girls up to their palatial penthouse apartments. Then, there are those smitten jokers who can only shake their heads in speechless wonder and go “duh!” when they behold their beloveds.

Well, what goes on in the animal kingdom is no different, so that’s a bit of an ego deflator for us at the top of the evolutionary pile. We must also keep in mind one almost universal truth: in most cases, it’s the girls who choose who they want to be with. Also, animals tend to carry off courtship with much more élan and style than we do!

Let’s start off with the insect and arachnid world. The tiny, but gorgeous, peacock spider does an elaborate fan dance in front of his beloved to convince her of his love — and that she should please not eat him during the courtship. Most male spiders — wimps in comparison to their lady friends — have a seduction routine that serves to chill their ferocious girlfriends, or they bring them silk-wrapped gifts (cockroaches do nicely), which the female cannot resist opening while the male does his part and beats it. Moths and butterflies spray irresistible “come hither” perfumes (pheromones) around themselves, summoning one another from as far as 11 km away.

Birds, of course, have been through the entire menu, so to speak. A cock sparrow will stick out his chest and strut in front of his girl, looking, frankly, like a neta trying to impress a Field Marshal. Indian myna gents show a surprising humility — they’ll duck their heads and raise their crests and chortle deep loving things around their girls. Floricans jump sky high as if bouncing on a trampoline and sage grouse puff themselves up like air-bags and strut around one another. Perhaps, the most wonderfully dignified strut-display I’ve seen was that of the endangered great Indian bustard. Sometimes, feathers may well fly as the gentlemen try to beat one another up, to show the lady that they are stronger and more virile.

But, birds are probably most famous for their singing. Magpie robins, decked out in shiny tuxedos, will produce flute concertos that Mozart could have written. I once came across a Brahminy myna (starling) looking like a dishevelled hobo, throwing his head back and singing his heart out, eyes rolling wildly, crest resembling a mohawk hairstyle. The shama is said to outclass the magpie-robin and ornithologist Salim Ali rated the grey-winged blackbird number one on his playlist. Like so many of us, there are birds who think they can sing, but are tone-deaf, and assume volume can make up for this. The Indian prinia and the tailorbird can deafen you from 50 paces away, and I once encountered a couple of shiny black koel gentlemen yodelling their heads off at each other at 110 decibels, with not two feet distance between them. Their ruby eyes bulged belligerently as they shrieked and their speckled lady friend got so nervous that she slunk off with another gentleman hanging back in the bushes!

Some birds prefer dancing, the peacock being the prime example of this. He’ll unfurl his tapestry into a great shimmering fan, suggestively wiggle his brown wing feathers as he twirls round and round. His harem pretends to be uninterested, but you can bet that if a wannabe princess makes a move towards him the reigning queen will fly at her enraged. Personally, I prefer the mad, exuberant dance of the Sarus crane — a bird known for its lifelong fidelity, indulging in an exhilarating cabaret act that would have been at home at the Moulin Rouge.
The famous baya weaver is a skilled architect and builder and woos his lady by weaving a beautiful vase-like nest out of the grass. He boasts loudly about its assets (central air-conditioning, CCTV, gold-plated faucets, etc). But once he has settled one bride (if she accepts), he will then go and build another palace for another bride and so on! Many of the raptors indulge in spectacular aerial acrobatics to impress their ladies while birds like parakeets and owls are plain old-fashioned romantics — offering tidbits and then getting on with some passionate French kissing.

Male mammals, too, will strut around or roar to show who’s boss: the snootiest strutter has got to be the blackbuck that will prance around his harem like a princeling, snorting, his skewer-like horns flat against his back. Often in the mammalian world, violence breaks out between competing males, but they try their best to avoid injury or worse because then, your romance is over. This, alas, is so unlike us.

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