Five Weird Sea Critter Courtship Displays

In our beloved underwater world, it is Valentine’s Day all year long, and our waterbone resident are doing a really good job at wooing their loved ones. If you would like to (re)impress your special someone, why not try one of those strategies!

Drag queens – Cuttlefish

When a male cuttlefish is wooing a female, he often “cheats” by painting typical female patterns on one side of his body, while on the side facing the females he shows off a typical male pattern. This gender-bending disguise fools possible rival males into thinking they’re seeing just a couple of ladies hanging out. By using this sneaky display, the males buy more time to convince the female to mate before they are being discovered by other males.

Warriors – Flatworm

Flatworm are hermaphrodites. The male organ is stored in a sac on the right side of the head. The female port is just above the mid-point on the right side. The creatures do a little tango to position themselves right side to right side and head to tail to align both organs. Here is when they start an epic battle. Wars are to decide who will carry eggs and who will fertilize. The fights are casually called penis fencing!

Underwater Got Talent – Damselfish

Female damselfish’s choice of a male depends on his courtship rate. Male damselfish perform a courtship behavior called the signal jump, in which they rise in a water column and then rapidly swim back downward. The signal jump involves large amounts of rapid swimming. Females determine the male courtship rates using sounds that are produced during signal jumps. As the male damselfish swims down the water column, it creates a pulsed sound. At times, males will continue mating and inviting females into his established territory to watch him, repeating the courtship individually to each female. Males are capable of mating with several females!

Romanticism – Sea Horse

The courtship in sea horses includes caresses, changes of colour and entwining tails. A genuine romantic dance that can last up to 8 hours. In fact, males and females dance every morning to strengthen their bond. Such dances are also useful to determine if the significant other is ready to reproduce. The male pumps water through his trunk to show that his egg pouch is empty and he is ready to reproduce.

Love in late afternoon – Mandarin fish

When sunset approaches, the timid mandarin fish come out of their hiding places to perform their courtship dance. This begins when several females arrive at a place where males have already positioned themselves strategically on the reef. Females have a predilection for larger males. After a long circular parade where the males try to impress the females by extending their dorsal fin, the winner, with a curiously arched position, incites the female to body contact. The female then rests on the male’s pelvic fin and both stick their bellies to rise up 1 meter above the reef to avoid the eggs to be eaten by the coral. This can happen a few times, rising up and then returning to the reef for a chase, and then rising up again. Eventually, the two will rise up and simultaneously release their eggs and sperm, which fertilize in the water column and drift down into the reef to eventually hatch the next generation.

Many of these fish courtship rituals can be seen in our diving destinations. Cuttlefish in the Similan Islands, nudibranch in the Solomon Islands, damselfish in Komodo, sea horses in the Philippines, mandarin fish in Palau. Contact us for further information!


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