Animal Behaviors in Grief and Mating
There have been many observations of elephants grieving. In Joyce Poole's Coming of Age With Elephants, Poole illustrates the depth of elephant grieving. A clan of elephants was moving towards newer territory, when suddenly one of the elephants fell over. Soon enough the other elephants noticed that one of their group was in trouble. Arriving by the elephant's side, they realized she was not moving. They attempted to get her up on her feet but to no avail. The elephants then left the dead body and moved on. The next day, elephants returned to mourn and pay homage to the lost friend, family member, clan member and elephant. As observed by Poole, when an elephant walks past a place that a loved one died he/she will stop dead still; a silent and empty pause that can last several minutes.
Why are grasshoppers so noisy? It's because they're singing to woo their partners. They have as many as 400 distinct songs, which they sing during their courtship and mating cycles. Some males have a different song for each distinct mating period - for example, there may be a flirting song, then a mating song.
To attract a mate, the male bowerbird builds an amazingly complex 'bower' of twigs, often shaped like a small hut. The male bird then decorates his "bachelor pad" bower with a variety of objects as gifts: flowers, feathers, stones, and even bits of discarded plastics and glass. Hundreds of pieces are carefully arranged in monochromatic themes (i.e. all blue items). He spends hours sorting and arranging things, and will break focus only to go to another male bird's bower to steal things and mess the place up - which causes great consternation for the returning bowerbird!
Interestingly, the male bowerbirds that build the most elaborate bowers tend to be dull in color whereas those with brighter plumage tend to build less elaborate bowers, presumably because nature has endowed them the ability to prove their fitness as mates through physical appearance. It has also been observed that some bowerbird species appear to change their decorating preferences from year to year with certain items seeming to fall in and out of fashion.
Emperor Penguins, the subject of the popular 2005 documentary March of the Penguins, have a strange "marriage". Penguin couples spend their lives apart from each other and meet once a year in late March, after traveling as far as 70 miles inland - on foot or sliding on their bellies to reach the breeding site. Once there, penguins look for their mates by making a bugling call. Male penguins generally stay in one place, lower their head to their chest and call out to the females. Once they find one another, they stand breast to breast, repeatedly bow to each other and bugling.
Meanwhile, the oceans echo with the calls of whales sending messages under the sea to their loved ones hundreds of miles away.
This article is from the February 5, 2009 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.
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