Lust

Finally. The one you’ve been waiting for.

The list of bizarre sexual rites in the animal kingdom is almost too numerous and well-documented to enumerate. Even if I were to define “lust” by the quantity of sex a species has, as opposed to just the quality, I’d be writing until you fell out of your chair, stunned by the sheer depravity and shocking variety taking place in the name of sexual selection. For example, lions in heat will mate 20-40 times a day for several days in a row, and the male lion’s corkscrew-shaped penis has backwards-facing barbs which both help him stay attached and rake the vagina to induce estrus. A pig’s orgasm can last half an hour. And how do porcupines make love? Very carefully… and also insatiably, as the female is only in heat for 8-12 hours a year. With only a half-day window of opportunity, the female will mate with a lover until he is exhausted, and then move right on to the next. Conjugal visits begin with foreplay which involves the male hosing the female with urine from six feet away.

My natural pick for an animal to represent “lust” would be the bonobo, a chimp-like ape which uses constant sex as a means of social bonding. However, since I’ve already written about the bonobo in another context, I’ll have to choose something new. Reproduction being essential for life, it’s hard to define “lust” as an over-indulgence in the animal kingdom; animals that procreate often are just fulfilling their biological imperative. But there are a few cases so exceptionally naughty, so blue, so indisputably NSFW that I am forced to admit that, when it comes to the dirty deed, Homo sapiens is a total prude.

Snakes: not just a euphemism for penises. Snakes are dedicated lovers, with single sessions of intercourse lasting up to 24 hours in the case of the Western Rattlesnake, the Sting of the reptile family. But while daylong sex marathons between two mates is sweet, snakes which hibernate have a different take on the carnal act, more “Debbie Does Dallas” than tantric soul-sharing. Nowhere is the phenomenon of snake orgies more extraordinary than in the Narcisse Snake Pits in Manitoba, Canada. (Literally the sexiest thing about Manitoba.)

(Also, this is one of the many animal facts I have learned from the sides of U-Haul trucks. Science is everywhere!)

When female red-sided garter snakes emerge from their long winter’s nap, they send out a strong pheremone which sends all the boy snakes running for her. (If a snake can be said to run.) The snakes pigpile onto her, each attempting to get their cloacas to hers, and the term for the resulting orgy is a “snake ball”: one female and over a hundred male garter snakes twisting and writhing in sexual agony. Yup: it’s a garter snake gangbang. Snakes On A Train.

This not only produces the fittest young — as presumably the majority of sperm the female receives will be from the males strong enough to muscle their way to the center of the ball — it also has the effect of warming up the female and keeping her safe from the predators waiting by the snake pits to pick off groggy garters. This is such a powerful incentive that many garter snake males have evolved the ability to produce female pheremones, the olfactory equivalent of drag, in order to trick other males into warming them up. Yes, they may have hundreds of snakes trying to bust a nut on them, but at least they’re cozy.

So when it comes to sheer looseness, the garter snake rules. But my choice for “most lustful” animal isn’t a lion or a rabbit or a reptile, but a tiny, mouselike marsupial called the Brown Antechinus. These guys will fuck until it kills them.

Semelparity is the term for the reproductive strategy in which an animal mates once in its life and then dies. Salmon would be a good example, as would the octopodes. (We, like most vertebrates, are iteroparous, which I dare you to use in a pick-up line.) This all-or-nothing, “big bang” gambit is fine for cephalopods, spiders, and some fish, but the chance of reproduction is too risky to justify certain death with most mammals. The antechinus is a notable exception.

In many species, males compete with each other for mating rights, bashing each other bloody with antlers and claws. A much more peaceable alternative is called the lek, which is a gathering of males who assemble to preen and show off for females, who choose the most attractive of the bunch for mating. Because the lek takes place in known arenas (the sock hop!), females know how to find area males and no one gets hurt in the process. Lekking is a reproductive strategy common to birds but not common to mammals. The antechinus leks in the treetops in Australia, bouncing and squeaking to prove their fitness, and the lucky male chosen by a female is taken back to a burrow containing several females for a mind-blowing 12-hour fuckfest. After what could only be considered a “heroic” night of energetic lovemaking, the male’s body is so depleted that his immune system just quits. Weak to the point of paralysis, his stomach riddled with ulcers, and at the mercy of parasites, the little Lothario soon succumbs to the first disease to come along, and dies, presumably satisfied. And the females? Just to hedge their bets, they go right back to the lek to find another baby-daddy.

So there we are. The Jenna Jameson and Rocco Sifredi of the animal world. In a world in which reproduction is ultimately more important than survival, there is no limit to the ingenuity of evolution for inventing variations on the nasty.

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About quantumbiologist

Christian Drake, AKA The Quantum Biologist, is a naturalist and poet formerly of Albuquerque, NM and currently living deep in the backwoods of the Connecticut Berkshires. He has worked in aquariums and planetariums, national parks and urban forests. When not birding or turning over rocks to find weird bugs, he enjoys rockabilly music, gourmet cooking, playing harmonica and writing dirty haiku. View all posts by quantumbiologist

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