Admit it, there’s something weirdly fascinating about the sex lives of animals. We’ve all witnessed a curious kid asking why a dog in the park looks like it’s glued itself to another dog and is trying to shake itself free. Even when we’re older we may stumble upon some strange animal behavior and wonder “what are they doing?” before realizing, red-faced.
Check some corners of the Internet like Reddit and you’ll quickly find out just how curious we are. Do animals respond to animal erotica? Yes – pandas, with their notoriously low sex drives, have been successfully stimulated by, well, panda porn. Are any animals likely to indulge in homosexual encounters? Yes, like sea horses – about a third of their couplings are with the same sex. But if the Internet is to be trusted, one question about animal sexuality preoccupies humans more than any other and that is…
Which animals mate the longest? (Clue – it’s not the birds or the bees)
Before we answer, we need to agree definitions. Firstly, we’ll have to discount foreplay, if only because it’s often hard to identify exactly where the line is between foreplay and play… or aggression. For example, male Northern Elephant Seals signal their sexual viability in mating season by going on a two month spree of violence against males and females, but it would be hard to class any of this as love making.
Then there’s whales, which win many competitive categories when it comes to animal sexuality. A Blue Whale’s penis is almost certainly bigger than you, for example. But, while it’s true that males may swim acrobatically alongside females for hundreds of miles to try to win their affection, is that sexual foreplay or just unusually persistent stalking? And, anyway, when it’s time for action, the practical difficulties of underwater sex mean that the actual intercourse usually lasts only for a deeply disappointing moment or two.
We’ll also discount multiple acts of sex, even if they are all part of one long continuous sexual orgy. For example, a lioness will often couple with more than one male when in heat, and the mating frenzy can continue for several days, up to 40 times a day. Lions in heat get so obsessed, in fact, that they often forget to eat during these sessions. But unfortunately, just as with whales, the actual moment of coupling is brief, often as short as ten seconds. So much for that King of the Jungle reputation!
Though don’t waste too much time sympathizing with lions, when you should be pitying a marsupial called the Brown Antenichus. The males of this small, mouse like species don’t just live for sex, they die for it. After a short childhood and adolescence of 10 months, the males reach sexual maturity and immediately enter into a furious two week mating season of getting busy with as many females as they can, for up to 14 hours at a time. In fact, they’re so sexually enthusiastic and active, that the stress hormones released cause their immune systems to collapse, unleashing infections, bleeding and certain death. So while they certainly have an impressive sexual energy, they should learn a little more about pacing themselves.
If you’re looking for a more spectacular sexual display, though one you might not want to read if you’re eating, you should look a bit closer to home. It’s well known that pigs are one of nature’s more intelligent creatures, but evolution has given them another little advantage in life. The male pig is reputed to have the longest orgasm of any creature alive.
That’s not to say that pigs don’t also enjoy foreplay. In fact, courting swine couples are rather sweet, known to enjoy touching and playing. The sow and boar even sing to each other as they nuzzle and chase each other. But when it comes to the act itself, the rutting may last for thirty minutes before the male begins to ejaculate… and ejaculate… and ejaculate. In fact, male pig orgasms commonly last for 30 minutes, and have been known to last 90 minutes. That’s the length of a whole soccer game… though at least the pig is guaranteed to score a goal.
But their orgasm acrobatics still don’t make pigs the animals which mate the longest. A very strong contender for the title is the rattlesnake. Apparently, one pair of snakes was witnessed mating for 23 hours and 15 minutes. Unsurprisingly, nobody interrupted the amorous couple: a rattlesnake interrupted mid-coitus is probably not the friendliest or safest creature in the world.
Yet even the rattlesnake doesn’t win our coveted title of longest mating creature. In fact, for that honour, we must return to the sea, to the very deep sea. The animal which mates the longest is the Anglerfish!
Now the fact that the Anglerfish gets to mate at all might surprise us, since there are few more hideous creatures on the planet. Perhaps that’s why the vastly larger female takes no chances once she’s managed to seduce a male. As they mate, and the male attaches itself to her body, she slowly begins to absorb him into her fishy flesh.
By the end of their mating, the male has essentially become a sperm pumping organ hanging off the female’s body, fertilizing her eggs for the rest of what is left of his life. Essentially he is engaged in a non stop sexual marathon with her for many years until she finally dies, and he dies with her. In some ways that’s the ultimate love story, although in more ways it is repulsive and terrifying. But that’s often the way it goes with animal mating. Sometimes human mating, too, let’s face it.