This Valentine’s Day, would you consider building a new house from scratch for your loved one? Or performing an elaborate and world-renowned dance to impress and win their love forever? No? You could learn a thing or two about romance from our native wildlife, say The Wildlife Trusts.
As human couples everywhere agonise over the right gift or gesture - or forget their sweetheart altogether - in the natural world time-honoured rituals are taking place which are eminently successful in the match-making stakes. Here is a quick guide to some of the most captivating “Casanovas” of the animal kingdom:
The stickleback male goes the extra mile to win female attention. He starts with the careful selection of a nest site, where he digs a pit and builds a mound from algae mixed with a secretion from his kidneys. He then wriggles through the mound, forming a tunnel, and emerges clad in new and eye-catching colours to show he is ready to fertilise. As females, laden with eggs, pass by, the male darts at them to get their attention. He will lead them towards his nest where the females release the eggs, which he promptly fertilises. With all this effort going into becoming a father, it is hardly surprising he guards the eggs, and fans them to keep them supplied with oxygen.
(Stickleback photo credit: Mick Hoult)
Dress to impress
When the smell of blossom is wafting on the balmy spring breeze, love is in the air too for many of our native species, and one of the most famous mating rituals is that of the great crested grebe. This waterbird gains an ornate plume of feathers on its crown in the mating season. Males and females, when pairing, engage in an impressive dance, bobbing face-to-face in the water and shaking their heads, diving for clumps of weed - which they emerge with clasped in their beaks - and raising themselves on rapidly paddling feet out of the water to sway their necks in unison. The crown of feathers is a key part of this tryst, but this very feature nearly spelled the end for grebes. So coveted were they by Victorian ladies, grebes were nearly hunted to extinction.
(Great crested grebe photo credit: Neil Smith)
“Mite” be love in the air…
Perhaps not the obvious place to look, the invertebrate world has tales of wooing too. The red velvet mite is a tiny parasite, taking its name from the rather fetching scarlet furry coat in which it is attired. The mating ritual of the miniscule male involves him laying down his sperm in, what is dubbed by some experts as, a “love garden”. He then weaves an undulating thread of silk leading to the sperm, which the female will follow. A delicate dance ensues, with the mites tapping legs and, if the female is charmed by her suitor, she will accept his sperm “packet”. Scorpionflies deserve a mention here too, as these generous invertebrates collect little gifts of food for their partner, usually bits of dead insects which they find, rather than kill. Eager not to appear empty handed, they will give packets of saliva if they have no insects.
(Scorpionfly photo credit: Les Binns)
Paul Wilkinson, head of A Living Landscape for The Wildlife Trusts, says: "Who would have thought that ruby red speck on the shed at the bottom of the garden would have such an intricate mating ritual? Who can fail to be captivated by the sight of great crested grebes engaged in their dance of adoration? The natural world is packed with encounters like this.
"These wondrous sights enrich all our lives, and that’s why The Wildlife Trusts are dedicated to creating A Living Landscape, across the length and breadth of the UK, where species can adapt to climate change and thrive from the urban garden to the farmland hedgerow, for all to enjoy. A Living Landscape is all about increasing the opportunities for people experience wildlife where they live. The magic of nature never fails to inspire."
This Valentine’s Day why not whisk away the person you love to a nature reserve where you can spot some romance unfolding for yourself? The Wildlife Trusts manages 2,256 reserves across the UK. To search for your nearest by postcode, visit: www.wild-net.org/ukwebsite/TWTReserves.aspx. Or visit the nature reserve pages of the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust website.