From male spiders tying females up to menopausal orcas getting frisky with younger calves, a new book has laid bare the incredible sex lives of animals who have some seriously kinky practices.
Bitch: A Revolutionary Guide to Sex, Evolution and the Female Animal, by British zoologist Lucy Cooke, looks into the diverse sexual practices at play in the animal kingdom.
Through her own research and interviews with specialists in specific species, Cooke uncovers the very varied – and often surprising – sexual habits they have developed in order to best serve their own evolution.
She found out that some of these habits are not so different from the romps us humans enjoy in the bedroom.
For instance, she reveals that several species of spiders indulge in a little of bondage, and that one in particular, the Caerostris darwini, even throws oral sex into the mix to enhance their chance of mating.
Meanwhile, she also brought to light the fact that whales are one of the only species, alongside humans, to experience menopause, and on top of that, menopausal wales are known to have sex with younger lovers, making them ‘cougars.’
Some species’ males also have their quirks. For instance, spiny lobster will ‘budget’ their sperm: They will refuse to mate with old, or less attractive specimens in order to keep their most potent sperm for younger females.
The very ‘kinky’ sex life of spiders
Spiders have surprisingly kinky sex lives that include bondage, oral sex, murder and sudden death (stock picture)
If you’re afraid of spiders, it might be hard to believe they enjoy what humans would consider very steamy mating sessions.
The sex life of spiders takes central stage in Cookes’ book, as she uncovers the way in which both male and female specimens have had to evolve in order to carry on their species.
In spiders, the female is in charge of reproduction selection, which means she chooses the male she wants to reproduce with, so that her progeniture have the best genes.
There are 45,000 species of spiders, and in most of them, female have the upper hand when it comes to mating.
While male’s spiders main goal is to carry on their legacy, female spiders’s priority is to store lots of fat so they can birth healthy babies later in life.
Female spiders are known to be eating their sexual partners, and if males didn’t have to reproduce with females to advance the species, they would absolutely avoid them, Dave Clarke, the head keeper of invertebrates at ZSL London Zoo, told Cooke.
Clarke, whose job includes mating the species living in captivity at the Zoo, said he feels sad for male spiders and takes spider reproduction very seriously.
The keeper oversees the reproduction of the bird-eating spiders, giant specimens who can measure up to 30cm.
Spider sex is particularly intricate. Male spiders do not have penises and have to produce sperm that get stored in two leg-like appendages called pedipalps.
The barnacle’s impressive organ
Just like size matters for ducks, it also does for barnacles, Cooke explained.
Because they spend most of their life fixed to rocks, these crustaceans have to be ingenious in order to reproduce, and have evolved to increase their chances.
Barnacles have the longest penis relative to the body size in the animal kingdom, sometimes being eight to nine times as big as the actual barnacles himself.
The discovery was made by Darwin himself, who studied the barnacle’s appendage at length.
So why so long? It allows the barnacles to seek females whilst remaining sedentary.
They have to get in the right position – which is different from one species to another – and then have to successfully insert both their pedipalps into the female spider’s genital slit, one at a time.
The mission is made even more perilous by the fact that female spiders are murderous, and will not hesitate to kill and eat the male if they are not in the mood for mating, or if they simply fancy a snack.
‘Clarke has picked up a few tricks over the years, the most crucial being to ensure the female has been wined and dined before introducing his eight-legged Casanova,’ Cooke wrote.
‘Hunger is the main reason she’ll go for him. If the female hasn’t eaten for a while her first thoughts are going to be eating. The male’s first thoughts are going to be mating, because that’s what he’s here for,’ Clarke told her.
In order to survive their attempt at reproduction, some species of male spiders have developed intricate mating rituals that will make the fans of 50 Shades of Gray blush.
Cooke listed some of these practices in the book.
She cited the nursery web spider, Pisaurina mira, which in one of about thirty species of spiders who engage in what humans would call ‘bondage.’
‘The male sneaks on to the female’s web and ties her up, using a pair of specially evolved extra- long legs so he can keep clear of her fangs while looping his own silk threads around her limbs,’ Cooke revealed.
‘With the female restrained, the male can mate safely and at a leisurely pace, taking time to insert his pedipalps multiple times, increasing the chance of sperm transfer and fertilization.’
Meanwhile, Darwin’s bark spider, Caerostris darwini, has also developed what we would call oral sex.
‘[The male] binds his lover first with silk and then salivates on her genitals before, during and after copulation,’ Cooke described.
The zoologist suggested the male spider might do so in order to get rid of any sperm left by another male. She added that oral sex is seldom witnessed outside of mammals, and that specialists don’t know the reason why spiders indulge in the practice.
Finally, threesomes are also common place for wolf spiders, Rabidosa punctulata, and the safest way for males of this species to reproduce.
Bachelors who come across a copulating couple of spiders will join the party, taking advantage of the fact the female is distracted by another male to shoot their shot.
And while some researchers have observed some sparring between the males, Cooke revealed that arachnids are very orderly when it comes to threesomes and males will wait and take turns inserting their palps into the female.
Perhaps the most extreme practice out there – and the one that least resembles what happens in human bedrooms – is how the male dark fishing spider’s immediately dies after penetrating the female, and is left dangling off her body for 15 minutes after his dramatic demise.
The male dies instantly, but can rest in peace knowing he laid down his life in the name of perpetuating his genes, Cooke explained.
The sneaky tactics of the male Topi
Male Topi, pictured, can resort to lies and tricks in order to mate with a female who’s not interested in them (stock picture)
For her book, Cooke spoke to Jakob Bro-Jørgensen, one of the world’s leading experts on the sexual politics of the Topi, a species of antelope found in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Topi mating season is very intense, because it takes place only one day a year, so males and females only get one yearly chance to carry on the line.
‘This short fertility window leads to a twenty-four-hour frenzy of sexual activity. Bro-Jørgensen calculated,’ Cooke writes in the book.
Within this species, females are in charge of who they want to mate with and they will turn down the males they are not interested in.
Males are particularly prone to turn into ‘con artists’ and resort to tricks to make sure they mate.
During the mating window, about one hundred males will spread and mark out their small adjoining territories with their dung, Lucy explained.
Females will go to the territory of the males they want to mate with, and because time is of the essence, they won’t stay too long in the same spot.
This means that if a male fails to impress a female, she’ll leave his territory as fast as she can to find a better partner.
‘Each female mates, on average, with four males, while some reached as many as twelve different partners in this limited timeframe,’ Lucy explained.
But males who have been rejected will resort to tactics in order to mate with their favourite females.
For instance, one male can sound an alarm to warn the female of possible hyenas or lions nearby when it is not true so that the female stays with them.
Because she’s on a tight reproductive schedule, the female might have sex with the male while she waits.
Spiny lobsters budget their sperm so that they give their best shot to the female they want to mate with, depending on age and other factors (stock image)
Some species have to tread carefully when it comes to procreating.
Some males have no choice but to be extra selective about which female they couple up with, down to how much sperm they are ready to allocate them, Cooke explained.
For instance, spiny lobsters and bucktooth parrotfish behave like ‘Scrooges’ and budget the size of their ejaculate according to the females.
Factors such as age, health and their social rank, and even if they have previously mated with other males will influence how much of the male’s seed the female is getting.
In some other species, males determined to hold onto their sperm for the best female out there even fend off the advances of females deemed unsuitable, Cooke revealed.
She explained that some European starlings – small grey birds – and the Mormon cricket turn down sex on a regular basis.
Some males even chase away females who come on to them to protect their sperm for The One.
Orcas go through the menopause… And have sex with younger males hereafter
Female orcas not only outlive their sexually active years, they also have sex with younger males and end up leading their packs (stock image)
Cooke explained in the book that menopause is extremely rare in the animal kingdom.
Across species, female animals rarely live beyond their fertile years, except for the Orca.
Cooke revealed how one Canadian Orca nicknamed Granny lived up to 75 years of age, making her the oldest Orca ever documented.
Researchers also found that although Granny stopped reproducing aged 40, she lived on another estimated 35 years after that, and became the leader of her 70-strong orca pack.
This went against previous beliefs that female killer whales are only there for reproduction purposes and the satisfaction of males.
In 2013, three males researchers from the University of Ontario theorised that female orcas went through the menopause because males preferred younger females, leading to the build-up of ‘deleterious mutations, causing older females’ ovaries (if not their hopes and dreams) to shrivel up and die before the rest of them.’
However, Darren Croft, professor of animal behaviour at the University of Exeter, told Cooke that he had never seen male orcas favour younger females, and that the opposite was actually truer.
‘I’ve been told it is quite the reverse: postmenopausal female orcas have a decidedly cougar-like sex life and are often seen soliciting eager young pubescent males for sex,’ Cooke wrote in the book.
It’s not just humans who do it! Cooke explained there are several female primates who have been known to indulge in masturbation, both in capitivity and in the wild.
The initial hypothesis was that animals only indulged in sex to procreate and not for pleasure, suggesting animals wouldn’t masturbate.
However, research has proven that several species like to get it on solo from time to time.
‘The British primatologist Caroline Tutin documented a wild female chimpanzee nicknamed Gremlin displaying “a fascination with her own genitals”,’ Cooke revealed, adding the female chimp was also seen rubbing objects like leaves and stones against her genitals.
As for the way these females like to get it on, practices vary from one species to the other.
Female orangutans can masturbate with the ball of their feet, while tamarins rub against their own tails or other soft surfaces.
In the 1970s, the Canadian anthropologist Frances Burton actually manually masturbated three female rhesus macaques using fake monkey penises to see if they could reach orgasms.
The three animals were wired up to a heart monitor and manipulated for five minutes, Lucy revealed.
Female ducks’ ‘convoluted vaginas’
The notion of consent is not wildly spread in the animal world, and female ducks have had to learn this the hard way.
40 per cent of mallards copulations are forced, and the females have no autonomy over who can mate with them or not.
However, their vaginas have evolved in order to still retain a form of control over which male can fertilise them.
Researcher Patricia Brennan has been documenting vagina and clitoral diversity across species.
It was believed that because the male mallard’s penis looks like a corkscrew, the Female vagina’s shape fitted with it for mating purposes.
She explained to Cooke she was intrigued by the fact that only two to five ducklings are born out of these forceful copulations.
So she moved to autopsy a female mallard to take a closer look at how her vagina works and found that the female’s helical piping was full of opposing spirals an nooks leading to nowhere in the body.
Brennan suggested that the female mallard could ‘open’ her helical piping when she reciprocate a male’s interest, and will remain closed for business is she doesn’t.
While it means the female mallard is still being abused by males, this is her way of retaining control over which male will get to be the father of her ducklings.
The males who have the longer penises will get to go further in the female’s vagina and have higher chances at procreating.
Bitch: A Revolutionary Guide to Sex, Evolution and the Female Animal, by British zoologist Lucy Cooke, is available to purchase