Frisky in the Forest

by Elizabeth Trickey

All mammals do it.  It’s part of nature, and the only way to keep the species from becoming extinct.  Some critters are monogamous, while others get it on with as many others as they feel the urge.  Some mate several times per year, while others make it a special moment just once per year.  Courtship and mating rituals differ amongst species, with some being quite unusual and/or entertaining.  Interestingly, they are not so different from humans.  Let’s see what our frisky little friends have been up to this past winter!

For raccoons, breeding season is January to June, depending on the weather.  A group of them get together for a wee social, checking each other out.  Then the males will fight aggressively with each other for the pleasure of cuddling up with a female.  Prior to the actual act of copulation, the winning male and the mother of his future progeny, engage in romantic foreplay which involves sniffing, licking, hugging, love bites, and gentle wrestling.  This goes on for about an hour, and recurs over the next few days while the female is in estrus.  Oh, and did I mention the shrieking?  Loud screams of ecstasy, no doubt!  Once they are both satisfied with their procreation activity, the randy male moves on to other conquests.  Females, however, close up shop after one male, being in estrus for only a few days per season. Gestation is about 2 months, with an average of 4 kits born in the spring, that momma raises alone.

 “Hugging and Sniffing Foreplay”  Photo: Mila
“A Conga Line?”  Photo: Kosmalski  

The porcupine ceremonies are a bit more involved, and interesting!  Females are only receptive once per year, for an 8-12 hour period.  So timing is everything!  It all starts in the autumn when the female begins letting males know she is soon to be available.  She marks her territory with urine and vaginal secretions, then sings out loudly that she is ready for some fun.  Many males will respond to her advertisements, and for a few nights there is much fighting, screaming, and loss of quills, until one of them wins the right to take the relationship to the next level.

The mating ritual begins in a tree where the winning male attempts to woo his new found love by performing an assortment of fancy dances and spraying urine over her head.  That must be a sight to see!  If the female is sufficiently impressed with the dance moves and the smell of his urine, they move to the ground to continue getting to know one another.  They may rub noses, stand on hind paws to embrace, and make whining and grunting noises, after which the female will present her backside to the male, flatten her quills, and curve her tail up over her back.  The male does have to be very careful in this annual performance so that he does not get stabbed.  The coital act takes 2-5”, and for about an hour, it is done several times until the female has had enough.  At that point, she moves away from the male and screams at him until he finally gets lost!  In the spring, usually, just one baby is born, in a make-do rock or brush pile, after 7  months gestation.

Photo: Mattnad

Photo: The Wildlife Biologist

Bat breeding occurs in the autumn when bats are getting ready to hibernate.  Depending on the species of bat, the mating rituals differ, so this is a general idea of how things go in the bat world.  Males and females journey to where they will spend their winter, and then chase one another in flight, singing and performing an acrobatic air show to impress a mate.  A female will land first, then a male will approach, fluttering around his intended love.  This wing movement helps to stir up his scent of urine and other body odours, which is a way of enticing her.  He then lands on her, enveloping her in his wings, giving her sweet love bites on her neck.  Some species of bats engage in oral sex as a part of the foreplay.  Copulation can be upside-down or on rocks in caves.  

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Big Brown Bats Mating. Video Courtesy of Brett Smith

After mating, the female stores the sperm until ovulation in the spring.  In the early summer, after about 2 months of gestation, female bats group into colonies to give birth.  Usually, just one pup is born while momma bat is hanging upside down.  She catches the pup as it is born, and places it in her pouch to nurse.

Photo: Michael Lynch

It is late winter when coyotes sense that frisky feeling, which only occurs once per year.  The males only produce sperm once a year and it takes two months for the little swimmers to get ready for the big event.  These animals usually bond for life, becoming a family unit, with both genders taking responsibility for the welfare of their offspring.  Maybe that’s why they put more effort into developing a playful and energetic relationship, with more foreplay than the average forager of the forest!  Choosing a life partner is up to the female.  Males will encourage being selected by providing gifts, like a tasty rabbit, to the potential sweetheart.  When a female is in estrus, the male will carefully protect her from outside interests.  These couples show courtship behaviours such as grooming each other, playing and wrestling, chasing each other, and bumping or pushing each other. They will also sniff and lick one another, and a female may even position herself in front of her partner to tell him she’s ready.  The coital act itself is about 20” in duration, with partners locked together, butt-to-butt.   Two months later, momma gives birth to four to seven young ones.

Photo: Prospect Police

Photo; Janet Kessler

“Dance of Love”. Photo: Porsupah

How can an article be written on reproduction in the forest without referring to rabbits?  Yes, these little creatures are sexually active from late winter to early autumn the following year.  Gestation is less than a month which allows for a female to have several litters each year.  And get this – the female has 2 uteri, one to nest the present embryos and another to start working on the next litter!  They aren’t too fussy about their partners, having a different one for each litter.  A male will follow a female, making it known that he is interested in her by walking stiff-legged with his tail held up.  If she acts coquettishly with him, he rushes past her, squirting his urine at her, letting her know that he means business!

During courtship, males and females will “cavort,” which includes running, racing, hopping, dancing, grooming each other, nudging noses together, or even boxing.  They also make honking and grunting noises.  The act of bunny mating is nothing to write home about – it’s just a quickie.  The male hops on the female, bites down on her neck, and after a few quick thrusts, the dirty deed is done.  He rolls off, unconscious, seemingly lost in ecstasy.  That makes one of them!

The female red squirrel is quite the floozy.  Coming into estrus just once or twice a year, depending on the climate, she wants to make sure she ends up in the family way.  So there’s no time for courtship or romance.  

She just shakes her furry little behind as she dashes through the forest, leaving a trail of scent, with several males chasing, hoping they’ll be the one.  Or one of the ones…. She’ll mate with several males, an activity that is relatively short.  A month and a half later, 3-5 little kittens are born.

Pictured is a mama squirrel caring for one of her eyes-closed babies, affectionately known as “pinkies.”

And lastly, though we don’t usually rehab bees, this certainly is interesting.  When the Queen Bee is ready to breed, she performs a provocative dance for her colony of drones.  It is doubtful that those poor peons know what’s in store for them, though.  The winner, or loser as is probably the case, that gets to mate with the Queen, is about to embark on the last thing he ever does in this world.  As he reaches his climax, his genitals explode, ripping open his abdomen and tearing off his penis, which stays inside the Queen.  Poor little fella….

On that note, rehabbers are about to see the products of many of these trysts.  Most babies are born in the early spring, and unfortunately, when the parents are out foraging while the little ones are safe at home, they sometimes get killed by predators, or in motor vehicle accidents.  Other critters are evicted from homes and sheds during spring cleaning.  Tiny orphaned infants are brought to Procyon so frequently in April and May that we quickly get filled to capacity.  Taking care of these babies that need 5 feedings per day is both time consuming and costly.  Due to not receiving any financial help from the government, Procyon is reliant on donations from the public.  Dedicated volunteers feed and clean up after the newborns, and take care of them until they are ready for release in the fall.  Other people provide money so that formula and food can be purchased.  There are many ways that the public can help in giving our wee furry friends a chance at life.  Please check the Procyon “How you can help” section of our website for what you can do.  And thank you!  We really appreciate the help!

Frisky in the Forest
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