Love in The Wild

Courtship and mating fun facts about mountain lions, banana slugs, humpback whales, Brandt's cormorants and other California critters.

by Hilltromper staff

Feb. 13, 2014—With the season of love upon us (and this year Valentine's Day coincides with a full moon, no less), we at Hilltromper HQ started thinking about sex. Animal sex. Grunting, squealing, purring, bellowing, biting animal sex. You want to know what makes a person feel like a pervert? Googling "mating (animal name here)" for a couple of hours. "Raccoon foreplay" took us down a weird alley, we'll tell you that much. But curiosity triumphed over shame, and we persisted in our hardcore internet research until we'd dug up some fun facts about how the wild things do the wild thing. Please enjoy—and use caution when trying these techniques at home.

Male Mountain Lions: Vote Early And Often

When female pumas enter estrus, they "vocalize freely" (read: "yowl") and rub up against things until the male whose territory overlaps her own comes sniffing around. Copulation is brief, lasting less than a minute, but may happen up to 9 times per hour. So that sounds annoying as hell. Watch this video of two mountain lions caught mating in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Coyotes: Childhood Sweethearts

According to Wikipedia, coyote mating season is late January to early March, so we're right in the middle of Valentine's season for these canines. Some of those messages are scrawled in a childlike hand, though: coyotes start mating when they're as young as a year old—at least a year younger than other canines. The female does the choosing, and a mating pair will stay together for many years, if not necessarily for life.

Raccoons: Real Romeos

Increasing daylight between January and mid-March triggers the little bandits' love drive. Raccoons may meet at a central gathering area, allowing them to, heh, sample the goods. In one study, one-third of all females mated with more than one male. This is the Wikipedia sentence that stood out: "Copulation, including foreplay, can last over an hour and is repeated over several nights." What constitutes raccoon foreplay is unknown by us because it just got weird in the Google. But we do know that male raccoons have a penis bone 4 inches long (that's between 15 and 25 percent of their body length) and which is termed a "Coonhunter's Toothpick."

Brandt's Cormorants: Seriously Gussied Up

"During the breeding season, adults have a blue throat patch." Well, Wikipedia, guess what? You have no poetry in your soul. "Blue throat patch" hardly describes the enchanting flash of iridescent turquoise that adorns these magnificent creatures, which are also known for being very quiet and for being able to dive 40 feet underwater to catch fish with a graceful flapping swimming motion. Fortunately Annie Schmidt of Mad Gull Productions does have poetry in her soul, so she created this awesome Brandt's cormorant courtship video with a Pink Martini soundtrack:

The Courtship of a Cormorant from Annie Schmidt on Vimeo.

Santa Cruz Long-Toed Salamander: Vent of Venus

These rare amphibians congregate in vernal ponds in the Pajaro Valley and near Elkhorn Slough, traveling only on rainy nights. Pairs do some chin-on-head rubbing before the male deposits a spermatophore, which the female, following his tracks, accepts into her "vent." The capital of this depraved scene is Ellicott Slough National Wildlife Reserve.

California Newts: Group Gropes

Like ’70s swingers in a hot tub, California newts like it wet and kinky. From our own description of the deed: "When they do find the breeding pond, madness ensues. Males amass into a wriggling pile called a spawning ball (see video) to compete for access to the female at the center." We like this photo of a newt spawning ball and the dazed look in the participants' eyes.

Banana Slugs: Yin-Yang Style

Banana slug mating starts out cosmic and ends in unspeakable violence, from a human standpoint. Two of the hermaphroditic creatures will find one other, insert their penises into each other's "genital pores," and remain in that yin-yang-like configuration for hours. Afterward, they chew each other's penises off.

Western Side-Blotched Lizard: True Colors

The males of these common lizards come in three color schemes, each denoting a mating strategy, one of which is blending in with the girls. "Orange males aggressively defend small territories (such as rock outcrops) and breed with many females. Blue males also guard territories, but instead of fighting, they cooperate with other blue males to establish borders, which spares them costly confrontation. Yellow males are female mimics—they disregard territory altogether, look like females and sneak into other males’ territories to secretively breed."

Gray Whales: Two on One

Gray whale courtship is by all accounts quite lovely, with a female and male (and often a second male) arching out of the water and swimming in circles. What happens next is either kind of gang-rapey or a gentle menage a trois, depending on who's talking. If it's a sciencey-type writer, "This is a dangerous situation for the female. There is much rolling about by the two competitors, and often the female will try to escape and protect her calf. She can lie belly up so that the males cannot reach her genitals, but finally one the males rotates his body under hers so that when she turns over to breathe, copulation can take place." If it's the San Diego Tourism Authority talking, "The female then advances by using graceful contact, grazing the male with her flippers until they both lye [sic] belly-to-belly. The trio will stay together for up to an hour, mating several times which can last up to two minutes, concluding with a mighty shudder. While this process takes place, the second male is on the far side of the female, forming as an aid or brace to hold her next to her mate." [Italics ours.]

Humpbacks: Short But Sweet

In 2012, Australian photographer Jason Edwards released the first footage of a humpback whale mating. "It was amazing," Edwards said, as reported by "There were four or five males vying for her attention and while the larger ones were busy jostling each other, the smallest one swam away with the female. Their coupling lasted less than 30 seconds, which might explain why it's never been captured on film before." The London Telegraph reported that "the female allowed the male to grapple her on a slight angle, sliding in from behind until his belly touched. Placing a pectoral fin over her flank, he stroked her gently during the act. After the pair broke apart, the female released a burst of bubbles from her mouth, rather than through the spout."


Field Notes

Plant your flag! Upload a photo, video, field note, nature poem or question for our army of (mostly) amateur naturalists.


14 years ago while living on top of Rodeo Gulch ridge, I ventured out in the middle of the night because of the eerie 'screams' I heard coming from the wooded area off of our steep grassland ridge. As I crept closer, it became apparent that what I was hearing was 2 lions having sex. In my astonishment I wanted nothing more than to go into those moonlit woods and see for myself. I hedged for a while as the mating continued. Finally I simply sat out in my meadow for about 1/2 hr. absorbing this magic moment,content that I was privy to something special and let those 2 lovers have their privacy. When I went home and got in bed,this wild and oddly beautiful moaning-screeching-screaming singing continued as I fell asleep,and was still heard after waking some time later. I woke early after the last of the songs had passed and made my way out to find the 'mating' bed..I never did.


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