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How to Woo a Mate, According to Ocean Animals

Dating is hard, even in the ocean

Jules Casey Seahorses Port Philip Bay
© Jules Casey

It’s that time of year again. For many, Valentine’s Day is a chance to show their significant other affection with overpriced chocolate, romantic dinners and cards with cheesy love-related puns.

Here on land, cards and flowers are a widely-accepted way to show someone you care. But what about in the ocean? How do sea-dwelling critters woo their mates with no Hallmark stores to be found?

In honor of Valentine’s Day, we’re sharing some of the ocean’s suavest suitors. Trying to woo a partner of your own? Feel free to take notes!

Pufferfish: Paint them a mystery circle

Females are a sucker for artsy males—or at least, female pufferfish are. Some male pufferfish use their fins to create patterns in the sandy bottom. They kind of look like crop circles, but instead of fueling alien conspiracy theories, these circles fuel a female pufferfish’s love. The circles can take hours to make, after which the female will lay eggs in the center of the circle for the male to fertilize.

Father Seahorse - Allwetterzoo Münster
© Allwetterzoo Münster

Seahorse: Ask them to dance then offer to carry the offspring

Seahorses have a pretty unique breeding ritual. Couples will greet each other every day with an intricate dance that involves mirroring each other’s movements, swimming side-by-side and more. This is a way to check in with the partner and make sure they’re ready to mate. When it comes time to breed, females place eggs in a small pouch on the male’s body. That’s right—the male seahorse takes the lead when it comes to the labor of childbirth. There are multiple breeding events throughout the season.

Anglerfish: Latch on and don’t let go

The male anglerfish gives all of himself to the female—literally. When a male anglerfish finds his partner, he bites into her and stays attached to her side. The male has one job: to fertilize the female. Eventually their bodies combine so that they share a circulatory system. He will eventually lose his eyes and fins, but will remain attached to the female and continue to provide sperm. The male stays attached until he dies, bringing a whole new meaning to “til death do us part.”

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© Robert Nunn

Penguin: Gift her a stone

When it comes time to mate, Adelie penguins spend a lot of time building the perfect pebble nest to protect their eggs. As a courtship gesture, male penguins may bring pebbles to the females to add to their nests. Although some have suggested that a male will spend lots of time finding the perfect pebble and females choose their mate on pebble quality, that’s not entirely true. According to penguin researchers, oftentimes any pebble will do. Sometimes males and females will steal rocks from other couple’s nests, which is decidedly crafty.

This Valentine’s Day, take it from the ocean experts. Your sweetheart will appreciate the finer things, like pebbles, sand circles and attaching bodies to share a circulatory system. Go forth and woo them!

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