Feature

All loved up: romance in wild Australia

13 Feb. 2022

Aussie animals have unique ways to attract a mate – from building the perfect love nest to busting out their best dance moves. While love among some is intense and fleeting, other species are known to mate for life, some affectionately raising families together every year. This Valentine’s Day we’re taking our rose-coloured glasses and looking closer at the wild love lives of Australian native animals.


Love Architects

To attract the female of his dreams, a male Bowerbird will participate in extraordinarily complex courtship and mating behaviour… he will build a bower elaborately decorated with bright shells, flowers, and sticks to catch her attention. Like a shrine on the forest floor, bowers are either avenues, made of two walls of vertically placed sticks, or maypoles, where a series of sticks are woven around a central pole. Avenue bowers can be up to two metres long.

Males spend hours arranging their collection and making sure everything is just right. They may even stealing from nearby bowers for that perfect piece that is missing from his hoard.

Brooklyn Fnq1053 Wayne Lawler/AWC
Great Bowerbird’s (Chlamydera nuchalis) bower with bottletop and other treasures in woodland of Brooklyn Wildlife Sanctuary, North Queensland. Photo: Wayne Lawler/AWC

Once the bower has perked her interest, the female Bowerbird will inspect the structure multiple times to see if the design meets her standards. During their visit, she is subjected to highly theatrical displays from the male including chirping, whistling, and buzzing while he performs ‘rooster’ or ‘penguin’ walks.

She won’t buy into the first house on the block though – visiting multiple sites, and often returning to preferred bowers several times, while she builds her nest nearby.


Return to love

Sometimes referred to as the ‘faithful lizard’, Shingleback Skinks are the only known monogamous reptile species in the world. They can live for up to 30 years in the wild and for most of the year live alone – but stay in close proximity (about one square kilometre) to their long-term partners using scent trails. Their partner bond is quite strong and each year they meet up with their significant other during breeding time.

Shingleback Peter Hammon/AWC
A Shingleback Skink displays a threat pose, arching the back and exposing its brightly coloured mouth. Photo: Peter Hammond

Shingleback breeding happens between September and November. The ‘meet up’ is a tender moment to witness, with the male showering his mate with ‘kisses’ all over her body. They then spend 6-8 weeks together before actual mating takes place. After the breeding season, the two part ways and will meet again at the same time next year. The female will give birth to two or three live young the following March or April.

Occasionally ‘divorces’ occur when a small male is displaced by one that is larger.


Just dance

What can a peacock spider do to impress a female when faced with mating or being killed? Show her your killer dance moves! These tiny dancers from the genus Maratus grow to be about 5mm in body length and range in colour from deep-dark browns to sandy blonde. Males are characterized by their colourful abdomen or opisthosomal flaps that they use as a ‘fan’ during courtship, displaying violets, jades and iridescent patterns in an elaborate dance of life and death.

 

Another important part of the male peacock spider’s courtship is the rhythm and beat behind the moves – caused by the fan dance’s vibrations. They also raise their third pair of legs, showing a brush of black hairs with white tips, using them in a clapping motion to attract the female’s attention and waving them in time to the vibrations.

However, his moves may not win her over. If the swaggering male fails to seduce his would-be lover, she may well eat him.


All suitors, please form an orderly line

Echidna courtship is a love story of determination and commitment. Male echidnas form an orderly line behind a female, creating what is known as an ‘Echidna train’. Composed of a female in front releasing very alluring pheromones, trailed by a conga line of bachelors, an Echidna train can have as many as 11 males shadowing the females every move.

Echidna Train Pilliga
This seven-long echidna train was captured on our Pilliga Wildlife Sanctuary (NSW) predator camera.

When it is mating time, another unusual behaviour occurs – the creation of a mating trench. When the female decides she is ready to mate, she partially buries her front legs and head into the soft dirt at the base of a tree or bush. The males start digging a trench around the female, with the female in the centre like a trophy on display.

If there is only one male remaining in her train, the mating trench will be simple and straight. However, if there are several males, the trench becomes a large doughnut shaped ring that can be up to 20 cm deep. The males then go head-to-head to push each other aside until only one remains with the female, impressing her with his devotion.

 

You’re the only bird for me
Glossy Black-Cockatoos are known to have a life span that can exceed 30 years. They also mate for life, with pairs maintaining their bond all year round. Breeding takes place from March to April, during which time the female will prepare a nest preferably in the hollows of large, old eucalypt trees, alive or dead.

Glossy Cockatoos Dsc5935pilliga Lawler Wayne Lawler
A breeding pair of Glossy Black Cockatoo with last year’s offspring. Photo: Wayne Lawler

The pair will often re-use the nest site if food and water are still plentiful in the area. A single egg is laid in late January to early June and is incubated by the female for about 30 days.

While the female keeps the egg safe and warm, she is bought food by her partner, only leaving the nest to feed herself once the nestling is a week old.

The nestling period is 90 days, longer than other cockatoo species. Once fledged, the young bird is fed by both parents for up to four months and remains with them until the next breeding season.

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