In our beloved underwater world, it is Valentine’s Day all year long. Our watery residents 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 these weird sea critters courtship displays?
Drag queens – Cuttlefish
When a male cuttlefish is wooing a female, he often “cheats”. He “paints” the 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 discovered by other males.
Sea Critter Warriors – flatworm courtship
Flatworms are hermaphrodites. For this to make sense you need to know that the male organ is stored in a sack on the right side of the head. The female port is just above the mid-point on the right side. When they prepare to mate, the creatures do a little tango to position themselves side to right side and head to tail to align both organs. This is when they start an epic battle.
The fight to decide who will carry eggs and who will fertilize are somewhat brilliantly 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. 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 – Seahorse
The courtship between seahorses includes caressing, 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. Something to think about if your own relationship is a little in the doldrums.
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, but who are we to judge?
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 will happen a few times, rising up and then returning to the reef for a rest, 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 weird sea critters courtship rituals described here can be seen in our diving destinations. Cuttlefish in the Similan Islands, nudibranch in the Solomon Islands, damselfish in Komodo, seahorses in the Philippines, mandarin fish in Palau. Contact us for further information!