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20 of the Weirdest Mating Rituals of African Animals

 Devryn Panaino

Author: Devryn Panaino - 30 January 2024

Last Update: 6 October 2023

Part of the African Safari Collection

Africa’s animal kingdom is as fascinating as it is diverse. Wherever you choose to go on an African safari tour, you’re bound to come across interesting animal behavior that makes for unforgettable sightings. This is especially true during the mating season, when animals in courtship put on a range of displays all in the hope of attracting a mate. Here are 20 of the weirdest mating rituals of African animals.

African Elephants

African elephants populate most of sub-Saharan Africa. In the mating season, males enter a period called ‘musth’, where hormonal surges affect their behavior.

 

This heightened state of sexual aggression is typified by constant urine dribbling and aggressive tendencies towards competing males. They’ll also fan their ears more frequently to spread their scent in an effort to attract potential mates.

Klipspringers

Klipspringer breed between August and September and are found in the more mountainous regions of southern Africa. During the breeding season, males typically mark their territory with urine and feces. They’re known to arch their necks while making clicking and humming noises to attract females.

Nile Crocodiles

Found in dams, lakes, and rivers across much of Africa, Nile Crocodiles perform mating rituals that include elaborate aquatic dances that involve high speed circling, slapping the water with their tails and jaws, lifting their heads and chests out of the water, and jaw gaping.

Hippopotamus

Hippos are polygamous, and found throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa. During the breeding season, only about 10% of males will have enough territory to acquire a mate. Males (Bulls) win over females (cows) through fecal spraying and flinging accompanied by vocalizations. Hippos will mate in the water, with the female partially submerged.

Giraffes

While giraffes do not have a specific mating season, breeding is more common during the rainy season, when there’s plenty of food around. Native to several regions in Africa, males will engage in a ritual called ‘necking’, swinging their necks violently against each other to establish dominance and win mating rights. When the male giraffe is ready to breed, he’ll tap on a female’s hind leg with his fore leg or rest his chin on her back.

African Wild Dogs

Found in savannas and lightly wooded areas, endangered African wild dogs live in packs with a dominant mating pair. This couple will secrete a hormone that prevents subordinate members of the pack from mating. The female will select her mate based on his hunting skills, rather than size or strength. Unlike most dog species, the actual mating is a short affair, lasting only about a minute.

Dung Beetles

Commonly occurring throughout Africa, dung beetles have a rather smelly mating ritual. Male dung beetles will offer females courtship gifts, none other than giant dung balls. These balls will actually provide the female with essential nutrients for egg production, so the better the ball, the better the mate. In some species, male dung beetles will push each other around until the less dominant beetle gives up and retreats.

Chameleons

Found throughout Africa, chameleons engage in bizarre but beautiful mating rituals. Males will often change their colors to more intense shades, puff up their throats, bob their heads, or swing from side to side to attract a mate. Males have been known to fight off competitors vying for a female’s attention.

Flamingos

Native to parts of Africa with ample water sources, flamingos live in large colonies and engage in beautiful group mating displays. During their mating ritual, a flamboyance of flamingos will move together in a synchronized ‘dance’, bobbing their heads from side to side, flaring their wings, stretching their necks up straight, preening, and calling out to prospective mates. Since pair bonds for flamingos last for only a single breeding season, each year means taking part in a new group display.

Honey Badgers

Honey Badgers are commonly found in the savannas of Africa. During the mating season, males typically make a series of grunting calls to attract a mate. Males are known to engage in a ritual called ‘stink fighting’, spraying each other with a foul-smelling liquid secreted from the anal glands. Honey badgers mate all year and often produce just one cub at a time.

Ostriches

Ostriches, the largest birds in the world, are native to several regions across Africa. When it’s time to breed, male ostriches will perform an elegant dance to attract females, involving the spreading and waving of their massive wings, while dipping and twisting their long necks. The females, in return, will crouch down if they’re receptive to the male’s advances. Males will also defend their territory with loud booming calls and are known to fight rival males using their powerful legs.

Lions

Found across the African savannah, the lion, often called the ‘King of the Jungle’, has a polygamous mating system. The dominant male in a pride has the privilege to mate with the receptive females. Lions mate at any time of the year, but if a new male takes over a pride and defeats the former dominant male, he may kill the cubs and mate with the females to ensure his lineage. When lions mate, it’s often an intense affair, with pairs copulating multiple times a day for several days.

African Penguins

Found on the southern coast of Africa, these monogamous birds engage in elaborate courtship displays. This includes mutual preening and flipper patting. Their vocalizations, called “braying”, sound much like a donkey’s call and are used both for attracting mates and marking territory. Pairs usually mate for life and return to the same nesting site year after year.

Rhinoceros

Rhinos, both black and white varieties, are native to Africa. When a female rhino is in estrus, she will urinate more frequently, signaling her readiness to mate. The scent attracts males from afar. Males might fight for the right to mate with her, and these battles can be intense given the size and power of rhinos.

Mandrills

Mandrills are the world’s largest monkeys, found primarily in the rainforests of Central and West Africa. Dominant males, with their bright blue and red facial colors, are more attractive to females. To woo a female, a male mandrill will puff out his cheeks, raise his eyebrows, and smack his lips. They might also display their brightly colored hindquarters.

Secretary Birds

These unique birds of prey, native to the grasslands and savannahs of Africa, have an extraordinary courtship ritual. Mating pairs can often be seen performing a synchronized dance, leaping into the air with outstretched wings, and calling to each other.

African Buffalos

African Buffalos, or Cape Buffalos, found in grasslands, swamps, and forests of Africa, have a hierarchical mating system. Dominant males have the best access to females. During courtship, a male will approach a female from behind and rest his chin on her rump or flank. He’ll also emit low grunts or moos.

Meerkats

Native to the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa, meerkats live in groups called clans or mobs. In each clan, there’s usually a dominant pair that does most of the breeding. Males leave their birth group to join another clan for mating. They woo females with grooming, food offerings, and gentle nuzzling.

Warthogs

Found in the grasslands, savannas, and woodlands of Africa, male warthogs, called boars, will fight each other for the right to mate, using their large, curved tusks. When courting a female, a boar will follow her closely, emitting a series of grunts. They will nuzzle and even gently bite to gain her attention.

Impalas

During the rutting season, dominant male impalas emit loud, unusual roars and engage in intense battles with their sharp horns to secure a harem of females. Once victorious, the ram vigilantly guards his harem from rivals, often shedding weight due to the strain. Throughout this time, he also scent-marks his territory, underscoring his dominance and readiness to mate.

From the synchronized ‘dance’ of flamingos and the smelly courtship gifts of dung beetles to the intense battles of dominant lions and rhinos, Africa is home to some of the most bizarre and fascinating mating rituals in the animal kingdom. The article explores 20 such unique behaviors, shedding light on the intricate ways animals attract mates and ensure their lineage in diverse African landscapes.

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