The sex life of a fruit fly

Birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it - but some of them do it in extremely strange ways. Gideon Defoe takes a look at the wild world of sex in the animal kingdom


FRUIT FLY

Scientific name: Drosophila bifurca
Size: 2.5-4mm
Distribution: All tropical regions
Diet: Rotting fruit

Mind control is usually a terrible way to pick up a girl. More often than not, you'll just wind up with a slap. A male fruit fly sensibly leaves the mind control to their sperm, which contains a cocktail of chemicals that helps to make the fly's mate more compliant and lower her libido for other males. He also goes for quality over quantity, with a single, massive 5cm-long sperm, 20 times longer than himself, which takes three days to make. Despite repeated attempts, mainly by teenagers, a human male has never managed to produce an individual sperm bigger than his own body. Which is a relief.

ELEPHANT

Scientific name: Loxodonta africana
Size: 4m, 7,500kg
Distribution: Africa, Asia
Diet: Grass, leaves, roots, twigs

During the mating season, male elephants bellow at other males, their testosterone levels shoot up to 50 times higher than normal and each loses up to 350 litres of urine every day. On the plus side, he has the biggest penis of any land animal - and it has to be, as the female's vagina isn't beneath her tail but much further down. Once the sex is over, the female's relatives are comically pleased with her - in "mating pandemonium" her entire family rushes over, shouting, trumpeting and defecating everywhere.

RHINOCEROS

Scientific name: Diceros bicornis
Size: Up to 2.2 tonnes
Distribution: Africa, Asia
Diet: Plants, small foliage

Hey, ladies, why not try the no-nonsense approach to finding out whether your man is worth putting out for? It's easy. Stand at one end of your hallway and get him to stand at the other. Now run really fast at each other until you collide with a big, clanging head-butt. To get the full effect, it helps if you each weigh about three tonnes and can reach speeds of 30mph. If your man is lying unconscious on the floor, he's probably not worth bothering with. But if he's still on his feet after you've repeated the process a few times, he could be the one. This kind of effort is why male rhinos in safari parks seem to prefer sex with Renault Lagunas.

BONOBO (PYGMY CHIMPANZEE)

Scientific name: Pan paniscus
Size: 70-80cm, 27-61kg
Distribution: The Congo river basin
Diet: Fruits, seeds, insects (rarely)

For years it was thought that only humans engaged in face-to-face sex. But at least one other creature enjoys frontal intercourse - our closest cousin, the bonobo. It is also the only other animal that uses tongues while kissing. Sex plays an important role in resolving disputes and maintaining social cohesion. Bonobo societies get along because they're always getting it on with each other. In any combination. Girls rub clitorises. Boys rub rumps. They engage in fellatio and mutual masturbation. The male will alter the speed and intensity of his thrusting based on the facial expression of the female. Where other animals get into fights over food, bonobos have sex. We could learn a lot from them.

FRIGATE BIRD

Scientific name: Fregata magnificens
Size: 2.5m wingspan, 1.5kg
Diet: Fish, small turtles

It can take the male frigate bird 20 minutes to inflate the huge red balloon dangling from its neck. Females inspect who has the biggest and shiniest balloon, and have sex with him. During sex the male, rather sweetly, put his wings over the female's eyes to make sure she doesn't get distracted by any passing male with a nice balloon. The problem is that sharp beaks and big balloons are a really stupid combination. Rival males do their best to pop others' balloons - which is disastrous, as once your balloon is burst you're never going to get a girl. You're doomed to spend the rest of your life wandering around looking a bit sad with a shrivelled-up piece of skin hanging off your chin.

GIRAFFE

Scientific name: Giraffa camelopardalis
Size: 5-5.5m, up to 900kg
Distribution: Africa
Diet: Leaves, twigs

Evolution has played a dirty trick on the male giraffe by forcing him to pump blood around his body at twice the pressure of any other animal just get it up his neck and into his brain. So he's only ever interested in sex if there's a good chance the female will get pregnant. If he reckons it's the right sort of time, he'll give her a nudge on the bum with his head. This usually has the effect of making her urinate. Then he laps up her urine and swills it round his mouth for a bit. Having used his sensitive palate to detect whether or not she's fertile, he'll try to mount her. Except that females aren't much interested in sex, so often, halfway through, she'll wander off, leaving him almost falling over his spindly legs.

PIG

Scientific name: Sus scrofa
Size: 90-150cm
Distribution: Global
Diet: Almost anything

Pigs have a long, slender corkscrew penis with a hole in the side, out of which they ejaculate an entire pint of semen, the last few ounces of which is like a thick, custard to keep it all from falling out. Like a lot of creatures, the odd penis shape may have something to do with preventing hybridisation - the more unique the penis, the more likely it is to only fit one kind of vagina. This is a good thing, because hybrids are generally useless and infertile. The exception to this would be something that was half eagle and half shark, which would rule.

ANGLER FISH

Scientific name: Edriolychnus schmidti
Size: Female 20cm, males 3cm
Distribution: Atlantic, Pacific, Indian oceans
Diet: Fish, larger invertebrates

The bleak ocean depths is to blame for the angler fish's unconventional sex life. Even with the headlamp the girls have, it's difficult to meet down there in the gloom, so when the tiny male meets the huge female he does his best to never let go. He takes a big bite out of her side, then hangs on - for so long his jaw fuses with her skin. This gets round the problem of his not having a digestive system, as he starts to live off her blood supply. Over time he wastes away until he's just a pair of gonads stuck to her side, supplying sperm as and when required. A creature that mates for life. Isn't that sweet?

THE ARGENTINE LAKE DUCK

Scientific name: Oxyura vittata
Size: 40cm, 640g
Distribution: Argentinian lakes
Diet: Seeds, plant remains, small invertebrates

Most male birds don't have penises - they've dispensed of them in favour of the slightly rubbish "brief pressing together of genital orifices". But not only has the Argentine lake duck kept his, he's become embroiled in a daft sexual arms race. This has left a not very big duck with an organ up to 41cm long. Sexual selection theory would put this down to female choice, although scientists at the University of Alaska think it could also be a result of intense sperm competition. Or it may be used in aggressive displays to intimidate rivals. And it's been suggested that they use their penises to lasso reluctant females.

How Animals Have Sex by Gideon Defoe is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson at £9.99. To order your copy with free P&P call Independent Books Direct on 08700 798 897, or order online at www.independentbooksdirect.co.uk

Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth gamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Sport
Members of the Scotland deleagtion walk past during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game