Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Ava from Canberra. Ava Wonders, “Why do some animals use mating calls?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Ava !
Ah, love! It makes your heart pound, your palms sweat, your knees buckle. It’s the best and the worst feeling around. People will do anything for love—or so the songs say. But have you ever WONDERed whether other animals act and feel the same way?
Yes, of course other animals feel love! Or at least, some experts think they do. Animals may or may not feel love the same way humans do. Regardless, they spend a lot of time and energy looking for the right mate.
Have you ever heard that beauty is in the EAR of the beholder? No? Well, it’s true for many animals. They use mating calls to search for a partner. In most species, both males and females will croon out their mating call. Eventually, their call reaches the ear of an eligible mate. That animal chooses whether to answer the call based on what they hear.
How could an animal decide whether they’re interested in a mate just by hearing their voice? Well, many mating calls say a lot about the animal that made them. For example, pandas can tell both the gender and size of the other animal based on their call.
In fact, that’s true for many mammals—and some of them use it to their advantage. Some male lions, elephants, and red deer lower the pitch of their mating calls on purpose. A deeper voice makes females think they’re larger. This makes females more likely to respond.
But love can be dangerous. Experts have also learned that some animals use mating calls to hunt. In fact, bats have been observed listening for the mating calls of katydids. This lets them learn their prey’s location. Then, the bats swoop in and snatch up the would-be Romeo for dinner.
Despite this danger, animals continue to use mating calls. Why? The hope to find a mate and start a family may be stronger than the urge of self-preservation. And, of course, mating calls are often the easiest ways for animals to do so. Calls can be heard from long distances. This increases the chance of finding another animal of the same species to mate with.
So you might say some animals risk their lives for love. Are they crazy to do so? That depends on whom you ask. But if you think about it, animals don’t act much differently from humans. After all, many people serenade their love interest. Is that really all that different from a mating call? And that’s not all—many other animal mating practices are similar to those used by people.
Many creatures—including nursery web spiders and hanging flies—use food to attract a mate. They package the most delicious treats they can find into a delectable gift for the object of their desires. Kind of makes you see that box of Valentine’s Day chocolates in a whole new light!
The human mating ritual of gifting jewelry is much like that of some species of penguins. Male penguins search the shore for rare rocks. Once they’ve found one, they gift it to the female penguin they’d like to mate with. Female penguins don’t wear jewelry as people do, but they use the rare rocks to decorate their nests.
Many other animals draw mates by showing off. Some male birds—like the peacock and sage grouse—puff up and fan their tail feathers. Male bowerbirds show off their usefulness by building beautiful towers of sticks. Once a female shows interest, the male bowerbird struts his stuff. He dances around his stick tower until he’s chosen by a female.
It seems romance is pretty similar throughout the animal kingdom. Have you ever heard an animal’s mating call? Spend any amount of time outdoors and you’re sure to! In nature, it’s sometimes difficult to tell the difference between a mating call and a predator’s growl. Always remember to stay a safe distance away from wild animals.
Standards: NGSS.LS1.B, NGSS.LS1.D, NGSS.LS4.B, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.W.4, CCRA.W.7