Sex & Relationships

Penis Fencing? The 10 Weirdest Facts About Sex In the Animal Kingdom

Here's a glimpse at some of the world's weirdest mating rituals.

If your friends ever give you a hard time because of your peculiar eating, just point them to Nicolas Cage. In 2010 the actor revealed that he choses his noms in a unique way. From the Guardian:

“I actually choose the way I eat according to the way animals have sex. I think fish are very dignified with sex. So are birds. But pigs, not so much. So I don't eat pig meat or things like that. I eat fish and fowl."

It’s an odd criteria. At any rate, none of the animals below will ever have to worry about ending up in Mr. Cage’s crockpot because they have some seriously strange nookie. Enjoy this glimpse into some of the weirdest sex in the animal kingdom.

1. I’ll  Melt With You

Some anglerfish live in the deepest, darkest depths of the ocean and if you looked like this, you might want to hide out down there too. They lure prey by means of a rod that juts out of their heads and attracts other fish, like a fishing lure. In some species, says Animal Planet, that lure contains luminescent bacteria, a light that tempts gullible creatures to their doom. What a stunning feat of evolution. And yet the mating ritual of the deep sea angler fish makes that look like a card trick. 

The male anglerfish is tiny compared to the female. He’s born with only the most elemental of body systems, but he can find a female anywhere because she emits a pheromone trail that his keen olfactory organ is able to track. He latches onto her with his teeth which fuse to her body and then he begins to melt into her—disintegrating and integrating with her body, absorbing into her until all that’s left of him are his reproductive organs, which she can use to fertilize her eggs when she’s ready. It’s a codependent’s wet dream. In fact, in this Animal Planet animation of the process they say scientists used to think the little nubbins jutting out of the side of the deep sea anglerfish female were extra fins. Actually, they are male anglerfish, fused into her skin. 

2. Urine like Flynn

You’d think the quills—up to 30,000 of them—would make every act of porcupine sex like an Evel Knievel stunt. The weird thing is that the quills aren’t the weird thing.

First of all, the female is only sexually receptive 8-12 hours a year. Hours. A year. Tiny window. Like the one Luke Skywalker had to blow up the Death Star. And yet female porcupines have a 90% reproductive success rate, reports Slate’s Jason Bittel. Hard to believe, considering how it all begins. Both Bittel and Cecil Adams of the Straight Dope refer to porcupine expert Uldiz Roze, and Adams quotes directly from Roze’s book North American Porcupine

“The male approaches on his hind legs and tail, grunting in a low tone. His penis springs erect. He then becomes a urine cannon, squirting high-pressure jets of urine at the female. Everything suggests the urine is fired by ejaculation, not released by normal bladder pressure....In less than a minute, a female may be thoroughly wetted from nose to tail."

Bittel says this jet can shoot about 6 feet. Sometimes it just pisses her off to get pissed on. Sometimes, though, she evidently finds it sexy (women!). If she’s ready to accept the male, she lifts her tail and the male rests his hands on the un-quilled underside of said tail and gets down to one to five minutes of porcupette-producing business.

The porcupine penis, by the way, is naturally spiny. Scientists don’t know why and no female porcupine has voiced an opinion on the matter.

3. “Cuddle Puddle”

The fear of snakes is common and if you’re ophidiophobic you don’t want to know about breeding balls. That’s a pile of writhing, squirming, orgiastic snakes having group sex that would probably break world records.

Reed College in Portland, OR has a course paper that explains pretty nicely how male snakes swarm when female snakes awaken from hibernation. Some males even throw the others off the scent—quite literally—by emitting a female scent and luring some of the males away from the female. Scientists have theorized that the male snakes might then rush back to take advantages of the duped dudes’ absences. Or they might do it because snakes don’t generate their own heat and the “cuddle puddle” formed by all these snakes is to the advantage of the “she-male” who is at the center of it.

4. Yucking It Up

Whatever other things might rattle your nerves while you’re having sex—your parents coming home, the big leather swing breaking, whether this will show up on the Internet one day—at least you don’t have a reasonable concern that you might be killed in mid-coitus by a lion

Spotted hyenas try to find the safest place to get it on for this very reason. At a certain point during their romantic encounters they experience a “copulatory lock,” in which the male’s penis swells in the female's reproductive tract and he ejaculates: this lasts “some minutes,” and leaves the hyenas sitting ducks to predator, Kay E. Holekamp, behavioral researcher of spotted hyenas at the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, writes in the New York Times. 

Holekamp says there's another thing that makes mating difficult for the hyena. Males and females are so similar that even when looking right at their genitalia it isn’t that easy to distinguish them. The female’s clitoris, through which she pees, has sex and gives birth, is as big as a penis and only discernible by its shape: clitorises are blunt-tipped while penises are pointed.

"Even though the female’s organ is flaccid during copulation, its only opening points forward and downward, so the male must hop around behind the female while he squats behind her, thrusting blindly upward and backward, to achieve intromission. It’s actually very comical, although you can’t help feeling a bit bad that you are laughing when the male is clearly having such a tough time,” Holekamp writes.

Don’t feel bad, Kay. One imagines hyenas are used to the sound of laughing. They probably don’t take it personally. 

5. Dying For Sex

We’ve all thought “I’ll die if I can’t have him/her.” When female ferrets say it, they mean business. 

According to the Ferret Information Rescue Shelter & Trust Society (FIRST) of Vancouver, female ferrets (called jills) go into heat in their first spring and never go out of heat until they are “successfully mated.” If they don’t mate they can develop aplastic anemia.

According to All About Ferrets.com aplastic anemia comes from bone marrow suppression: elevated estrogen levels from this extended period of heat become toxic to the ferret’s bone marrow. The disease causes complete loss of red blood cells in the bone marrow with symptoms that include anemia, swollen vulva and hair loss.

Ferret owners can combat this by getting the female mated to a male who's had a vasectomy, or by getting her a “jill jab,” a hormone injection that brings her out of heat.

Jeepers, they make ice cream for dogs and clothes for cats. Can no one invent a ferret Hitachi wand? 

6. Penis Fencing

It looks like two scrunchies having a fight. Actually the flatworms in that NatGeo Wild “World’s Weirdest” video are quite pretty, but what they’re doing isn’t.

All flatworms are hermaphrodites and their mating routine is definitely more fighting than loving; in fact, it’s referred to as penis fencing. They try to jab each other using their penises as weapons. When one is successful it ejaculates the sperm, which the other absorbs, forcing it, rather miserably if the video is any indication, into motherhood.

Ever seen a scurnchie mope off into the sunset looking for groceries while the father flutters away without a care in the world? It’s damn depressing. 

7. Star 69

Earthworms are both unassuming and icky at the same time, like those guys you see who are either really nice or they're serial killers. The same goes for an earthworm's sex life. On one hand they’re kind of cool. On the other the word “slime tube” comes up a little more often than is usually desirable. 

Earthworms are simultaneous hermaphrodites, meaning they have the reproductive organs of both sexes, writes Josh Clark of How Stuff Works. Spiffy! Nothing like having options. To mate they get into what, for humans, would be a 69 position, then excrete enough mucous to form a “slime tube” around their bodies. Each ejaculates sperm that the other takes and then the pair goes their separate, slimy ways. 

Slime tube part two happens when they get ready to lose their clitellum, a band each earthworm has around its body that excretes more slime. As it slides up, it passes over the egg sac, which sticks to it, then over the receptacle holding the paramour’s sperm which also sticks to it, and when eggs and sperm meet, voila!— fertilization takes place. The band comes off the top of the worm’s head like a T-shirt and it forms a little pod from which up to 20 little worms will emerge in two to three weeks. 

With that kind of speed and numbers it’s not surprising, as Clark writes that vermicomposters say their worm populations can double in 60 to 90 days.

8. Very Oral Sex

Some crazy animal sex, like the swingers club that is the life of the bonobo, has become common  knowledge. Lots of people know that bonobos have sex with the same frequency the rest of us use Google. Another weird animal sex fact most of us know is that there are some insects and arachnids who eat their mates. 

But do you know why? Carl Zimmer, writing in the New York Times in 2006, says the reasons can vary among species faced with “different evolutionary pressures.” One study showed that in Chinese mantises, males were the main source of food for females to begin with.

Male redback spiders are a different and more suicidal story. A male redback spider starts mating with a female, then flips himself onto her fangs. She starts to cannibalize him and then he, kind of amazingly, starts the courting process all over again. After the second mating he will die. Researchers have found that the cannibalism gives the male time to plug the female’s sperm receptacle so no other male can mate with the female. Cannibalized males mate twice as long and have twice the reproductive success rate of non-cannibalized males. They do it for offspring!

Jennifer Welsh of LiveScience writes that hunger—for sex in males, for food in females—may drive preying mantis behavior with males more willing to take a risk with a hungry female if the males are sexually starved.

So there are just a few thoughts on why some species eat their mates. And you thought it was because their mates were filled with cheese. 

9. That Warm, Vampiric Glow

From hot tubs to warming vibrators to fireplaces, heat is considered sexy. And the male of this species makes his own. 

Sea lamprey sex isn’t that bizarre—in fact it’s a fairly straightforward matter, as Laura Poppick of LiveScience reports. Male vampire fish meets female vampire fish (they sustain themselves by parasitically attaching to other fish and sucking their blood); male attaches hideous suction cup mouth to female’s head, vigorous thrusting ensues, gametes are shot out into the world and land in a little depression mother vampire fish makes with her tail.

What’s new and interesting about it all, Poppick reports, is the discovery that a ridge of fat cells near the anterior dorsal fin of the male heats up when females approachs. It’s the first time heat-generating (thermogenic) tissue has been identified in a cold-blooded species. 

Why they do it is unclear, but as Poppick writes, generating heat burns caloric energy and the varying degrees to which they heat up suggests that males tend to spend more energy on attractive females. Since they die after mating it’s energy nature would consider well spent. 

10. Pigasm

Coming back full circle to Nick Cage’s dismissal of the pig as having undignified sex, here’s a tidbit about pig nookie. There’s a rumor afloat that pigs have 30-minute orgasms. While I couldn’t find anything to substantiate this, it does say in the Orgasm Answer Guide that male pigs do take five minutes to ejaculate. For comparison, rabbits take one second, and the "conscious perception of orgasm” in human males is 20 seconds or less. 

Animals may not be able to rhapsodize in erotic novels and women’s magazines about orgasm, but scientists have concluded that sex is just as rewarding for animals as it is for humans. You know what that means? Male pigs are having climaxes that are 15 times better than human males.

Liz Langley is a freelance writer in Orlando, Fla.