1. Antechinus, a tiny Australian marsupial, breeds so hard in a few weeks that it essentially screws itself to death.
The male antechinus has all the sex it will have in its life in the space of two or three deadly weeks. Desperately trying to mate with as many females as possible in as short a time as possible, its unusually large testes swollen with sperm and its bloodstream flooded with stress hormones, the antechinus literally destroys its own body in a frantic, fortnight-long sexual marathon. Each mating session is violent, and can last up to fourteen hours. After too much of this, the increasingly exhausted antechinus’s body cannot take the strain: it starts bleeding internally, its immune system fails, it develops ulcers and gangrene, and its fur falls out. But even though its body is disintegrating, the antechinus keeps feverishly trying to cop off with the (increasingly reluctant) females, urgently trying to squeeze out one last suicidal shag before its flesh gives up entirely, and the antechinus dies of sex.
This kind of kamikaze breeding strategy is technically known as “semelparity”, and you can read a lot more about why the various species of antechinus adopt such a reckless approach to their love lives in this delightful article from Ed Yong.
2. Female Chinese Fruit Bats contort themselves to give the male fellatio while they’re having sex.
This happens in 70% of encounters: the female licks the male’s shaft while he’s penetrating her.
We’re not sure why they do this. According to Min Tan of China’s Guangdong Entomological Institute, the sex lasts on average 100 seconds longer than when they don’t do it, which could be conducive to fertilization or stopping other female bats stealing their mate. It might be about cleanliness. It might also be about hygiene.
3. The short-beaked echidna’s balls increase in size by 200% when mating season begins.
For a start, this image is a representation, because it has internal testes.
So what happens is this. The short-beaked echidna looks for a mate between May and September. In the months beforehand, the male’s testes grow. A lot.
Then it gets weird.
In a practise as delightful-sounding as it actually is, the female turns her cloaca inside out and wipes it on the ground, smearing a goo everywhere. It is believed to be an aphrodisiac.
Trains of up to 10 males, often with the youngest and smallest male at the end of the queue, can follow a single female in a courtship ritual that may last for a month. They all forage for food together.
There may well be fighting, and some of the males may back off, but eventually there’ll be a guy at the front of the pack. He’ll sniff her bits, and she may reject him by rolling into a ball.
If she doesn’t, he gets his penis out, and it gets even weirder. Brace yourself.
That would be a penis with four heads that can take turns.
Echidna sex is weird.
4. Male honey bees’ genitals explode at the end of sex, leaving the tip of their penis in the female as a sexual plug.
The honey bee drone mates with his queen in mid-air, having fought off the attention of a swarm of fellow males - which seems complicated enough. But that’s nothing compared to the fact that at the point of ejaculation, the male’s genitals literally explode, forcefully shooting large amounts of semen into the queen’s oviduct, tearing his genitalia apart, and leaving behind the tip of his phallus inside the queen. Following this once-in-a-lifetime sexual experience, the drone falls to the ground and dies within minutes.
In spring or summer, if you live near a colony, the quiet popping sounds of exploding bee cocks are sometimes audible to the human ear.
Why? It may partly be a strategy to prevent other drones from successfully mating with the queen by blocking her oviduct, but it seems likely the main reason is simply to stop the sperm from flowing back out again and making the whole thing a waste of both time and perfectly good bee genitals. Bonus: here’s a video of it.
This is the only time in her life that the queen mates as well - she gets one flight where she’s the centre of attention, has sex with numerous partners, and then returns to the hive with a trail of dead males in her wake and a massive store of sperm that will last the rest of her life.
5. The male anglerfish bites into the female one and slowly rots away until it’s just a pair of gonads that’s conjoined to her.
This is a reconstruction of what it would look like if humans mated like this.
The thing is, male anglerfish need to do this because otherwise they’ll die. Well, die sooner.
Basically, they are a) rubbish at catching prey and b) usually have underdeveloped digestive systems. When the bite you see above takes place, an enzyme is released that digests both the skin of the male’s mouth and the female’s body.
In probably the weirdest sexual quid pro quo you’ll read about today, the male receives nutrients through the shared circulatory system, and in return he gives the female his sperm. He’ll stay “alive” just as long as the female lives and can take part in multiple spawnings.
But why? Well it’s probably because there’s very little mate choice for the males. So on balance, it’s likely to improve lifetime fitness, and it means they get more bang for their buck. In the sperm stakes.
6. Banana slugs penetrate each other, then one chews off the other’s penis.
Banana slugs are hermaphrodites - they have both male and female genitalia - so when they have sex they both penetrate each other at the same time. Which sounds fun. But at the end of sex, one banana slug will sometimes chew the other’s penis off. Which sounds less fun. Occasionally, both of them will chew each other’s penises off. (Their penises are on their heads btw.) Oh, and contrary to what some people say, the penises don’t seem to grow back.
Why? It’s unclear, but it may be an attempt to prevent the other slug having more sex in the future, thus ensuring that it’s the first slug’s sperm that makes future slugbabies.
You can watch a video of the penis chewing here, if that’s your thing.
7. The red velvet mite male shoots his load all over the ground and just kind of leaves it there for the female to sit on.
And that is all you need to know.
8. Marine flatworms do something called “penis fencing”, where they each try to stab each other with their dicks.
Like banana slugs, marine flatworms are hermaphrodites, capable of being both father and mother - but they go to extreme, and violent, lengths to avoid becoming the mother. They fertilise other flatworms by literally stabbing them with their erect penises and ejaculating semen into the wound; but because both of them have penises, and neither wants to be made pregnant, they have fights - which can last up to half an hour - where the two sexually aroused flatworms wrestle around each trying to stab the other before getting stabbed.
Of course, what actually happens most of the time is that the fencing match is a draw, and both flatworms leave the battlefield pregnant, covered in wounds filled with somebody else’s sperm.
You can watch a video of this as well. If you want.
9. The Harpactea sadistica spider jabs a hole in his mate and humps the bejeezus out of it.
If it isn’t our old friend traumatic insemination :(
The charmingly-titled H. sadistica is the first spider to use this awful method of intercourse. Basically the male doesn’t have a penis, it has a hypodermic syringe – two in fact – and it plunges them straight into the female’s ovaries so it knows that its sperm is the one used to create the progeny.
The world is a dark, horrible, vile place.
Here’s the video, if you must.
10. Male hippos fling their shit around to get females in the mood for sex.
So this is how male hippos mark their territory. By defecating and urinating at the same time and flinging it EVERYWHERE.
Now it’s believed this is partly to ward off males, and partly to attract females. What this means is that any submissive lady hippo in the area who might soon be mounted is set to get a golden/brown shower right in her face.
11. And the kakapo, which is just absolutely terrible at sex.
Poor kakapos. These fat parrot-like birds can’t fly - and aren’t even terribly good at walking. When the males want to attract a mate, lacking any other skills to show off, they dig a hole in the ground, sit in it, and shout. This “booming” can carry for miles, attracting the attention of females from far and wide. Unfortunately, the acoustics of their habitat are really bad, and kakapos have a terrible sense of direction. This means that the female kakapos hardly ever actually manage to find the male making all the noise, instead waddling around for ages looking for a mate in completely the wrong place.
The sexually frustrated male, meanwhile, having sat on his own shouting at nobody for days, ends up just trying to have sex with something. Because kakapos aren’t very clever, “something” in this case can mean anything from nearby rocks or people’s heads to - crucially - predators that like to eat kakapo.
The kakapo has been close to extinction for decades.