DAY SIGNALS THE END OF WINTER DORMANCY
Is it coincidental that so many animals begin courtship around Valentine's
Day or is there some significance to the seasonal timing?
A connection between Valentine's Day and spring mating rituals of some
animals sounds like a romantic idea, but no valid relationship exists
between our human celebration and the reproductive patterns among wild
species. The origins of Valentine's Day celebrations, which now occur
virtually worldwide, are disputed and almost certainly based on tales
that qualify more as myth or fable than as documented events. For human
beings, Valentine's Day is more or less an artificially created reason
to have a celebration, and the idea has spread throughout the world.
the date Americans have selected for a celebration of Cupid's matchmaking
antics, happens to occur at a time when native wildlife species in the
north temperate zone begin to reemerge after winter dormancy. The days
have been getting longer since the darkest days leading to Dec. 21 and
will continue to do so until June 21. More new-growth vegetation means
food is available for herbivores of all sorts, from insects to mammals.
And more food means more energy that can be devoted by females to production
of young and by males for territorial pursuit of females. Courtship
and mating occur throughout the year for some plants and animals, but
the burgeoning resources associated with the advent of spring assures
major activity. Valentine's Day is well-timed for the phenomenon.
birds - from Florida northward, depending on the latitude - evidence
of courtship can be seen around Valentine's Day. Male bluebirds begin
to show a hint of the impressive plumage soon to come, and male goldfinches
start changing from drab olive to stunning yellow. Male displays of
breeding colors in some species might be considered the equivalent of
brightly colored Valentine cards intended to appeal to the object of
display of Valentine red is found in male blue-tailed skinks. Juveniles
have a metallic blue tail and bright yellow stripes, a color pattern
that is found in a more subdued fashion in adult females. The males
develop shiny, coppery brown bodies. In springtime, not too long after
Valentine's Day, male broad-headed skinks begin their courtship. At
this time the head and neck turn brilliant red, making them look rather
like a Valentine heart moving through the forest.
biologists assume that all species have a ritualized courtship process
that leads to the mating event itself, but courting behavior in the
wild has been observed in only a small proportion of the world's turtles.
Nonetheless, it assuredly happens even though we don't see it.
biologists have observed complex and intriguing courtship rituals in
some species. Adult male painted turtles and slider turtles (including
the common red-eared sliders often kept as pets) have elongated foreclaws
used in an elaborate courtship behavior called "titillation."
this remarkable ritual, the male extends his front feet and turns them
so that the backs are touching. Then he vibrates his long claws in the
water in front of the female. A female interested in mating will follow
the male, who slowly swims backward. One of the best opportunities to
observe the fascinating process of titillation is at a public aquarium
in which freshwater turtles can be seen through glass in natural underwater
Lord Tennyson asserted that in spring a young man's fancy lightly turns
to thoughts of love. (So, too, do young women's thoughts, but since
"Locksley Hall" was written in 1835, we'll let that slide.)
For most forms of human behavior, an equivalent or near-equivalent can
be found somewhere in the animal kingdom. Spring mating rituals among
many animals prove that courting is no exception.
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