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Mating

Common Gartersnakes Mating

During these first days of April, Common Gartersnakes emerge from their hibernacula and often bask in the sun near the den where they spent the winter.  (At this time they are more approachable than later in the season, should you desire a close look at one.)  Males usually appear first; when the females appear, the males follow them in hot pursuit.

Common Gartersnakes are known for their impressive courtship ritual.  Prior to copulation, as many as a hundred males will often writhe around a single female, forming a mass which is referred to as a “mating ball.”  The male closest to the female rubs his chin on the head, back and sides of the female while aligning himself with her and eventually mating takes place.  When it does, the other males that were in the mating ball leave and seek out other females.  Female gartersnakes mate once; male may mate with several females.  (Photo by Sally Fellows)

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Black Bears Marking Territory & Mating

6-30 black bear sign 032Black Bear (Ursus americanus) breeding season begins in May and lasts until early July, with mating occurring mainly during June. The female traverses her territory at three times her normal rate during this time, laying down a scent trail which the male follows. Both male and female periodically intentionally deposit their scent by straddling vegetation, breaking off small limbs and biting, scratching and rubbing on trees (and telephone poles if available). Tree species often used for marking include White Birch, Balsam Fir, Striped Maple and Red Pine. When contact between the bears is eventually made, they nuzzle and chew on each other’s head and neck and may even wrestle a little. Mating occurs repeatedly for several days. (Thanks to Alfred Balch for photo op.)

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Sacrificial Honeybee Drones

6-26-15 drone 039A honeybee colony has one (fertile, egg-laying) queen, several hundred male drones and thousands of (sterile) female worker bees. The drone’s one and only function is to mate with and fertilize a queen. (They do no work in the hive, and are fed by workers until fall.) Early in a queen’s life, she makes several mating, or nuptial, flights. On these flights, she mates — in midair about 200-300 feet high — with anywhere from one to more than 40 drones. They are usually not from the queen’s hive, but may be from several other hives. The average number of drones with which a queen mates is 12. The queen stores up to six million sperm from her mating flights, and retains them for the remainder of her life — two to three years, for a long-lived queen. (Recent research shows that the more times a queen mates, the more attractive she is to her worker bees, due to pheromone alterations, and thus, the longer she lives before being replaced.)

While the queen may live several years after mating, the few drones that manage to partner with her do not, for they die after mating. Although brief, honeybee mating is dramatic. The drone inserts his endophallus (internal penis) into the queen’s sting chamber and with great force injects his sperm into her. The force with which this is done is so powerful that it ruptures the endophallus, separating the drone from the queen. The drone dies shortly thereafter. (At this time of year, honeybee hives often swarm due to overcrowding, with the old queen departing with half of the hive; a new, virgin queen then takes her nuptial flights.) Photo: A drone honeybee which lost its life after successfully mating with a queen. Discovered and photographed by Boston Beekeeper Association founder, Sadie Richards Brown.

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Black Bear Yearlings Soon To Be On Their Own

5-19-15  black bears 067Female Black Bears become sexually mature at three-and-a-half years of age. They breed in June and give birth in January or February (delayed implantation). Black Bears have a 2-year reproduction cycle: the cubs remain in the custody of their mother for roughly a year and a half, during which time the mother doesn’t mate. In May or June of the year following their birth, when they are 16 or 17 months old, the yearlings become independent and go off on their own — – just prior to black bear mating season. (Thanks to Jill and Bryan Marquard for photo op.)

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Common Gartersnakes Mating

4-30-15  common gartersnake IMG_9163Common Gartersnakes begin mating in the spring as soon as they emerge from brumation (a reptilian state of dormancy similar to hibernation in mammals, but involving different metabolic processes). The males leave the den first and wait for the females to exit. Once the females leave the den the males surround them, forming what is called a mating ball (one female and many males). The males give off pheromones that attract the female. After the female has chosen her mate and mated, she leaves. while the males stay to re-mate with other available females. The females have the ability to store the male’s sperm until it is needed and thus a female may not mate if she does not find a proper partner.

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Great Blue Herons Mating

4-15-15  great blue herons copulating2  IMG_8954Great Blue Herons have returned to their nesting colonies in the Northeast and their breeding season is underway. These birds are monogamous for the duration of any given breeding season. A study found that most Great Blue Herons choose a new mate every year. After elaborate courtship displays have taken place, the pair copulates, frequently on the nest, and usually in the early morning or evening, as the female is away from the nest mid-day.

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Beavers Mating

2-24-15 beaver3 IMG_3415Reproductive activity begins when a beaver reaches the age of three years. Beavers mate in January and February, with the peak activity in mid-February. Typically mating takes place in the water (under the ice), but can occur inside their lodge. Kits, usually three or four, will be born in May or June. Beavers are monogamous and pair for life. (Note: ponds still frozen – photo not recent)

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Queen Ants Mating & Removing Wings

ant removing wings2  095Ants are social insects and live in colonies consisting of one or more queens, female workers and males. In most species the non-sexually mature female ants are wingless; only the males and the queen(s) possess wings. Periodically, often 3-5 days after a heavy rain, the winged ants emerge from the colony in large swarms in order to mate and create more colonies. Swarming behavior is usually synchronized with other nearby colonies, so large numbers (hundreds or thousands) of winged ants suddenly appear. After mating, the males die and the queens shed their wings and use the remaining wing muscles as a source of nutrients during the early stages of colony development. The shedding of wings is not a passive activity. The pictured ant is in the process of removing her fourth and final wing. She held each wing down with one leg while pulling it out with another. She then crawled off, leaving a pile of wings behind.

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Grasshoppers Courting, Mating & Laying Eggs

8-20-14 mating grasshoppers 040It’s that time of year again, when grasshoppers are courting, mating and laying eggs that will overwinter and hatch next spring. In addition to adopting different poses and flashing brightly-colored wings, male grasshoppers attract females by producing calling songs. (Some females also produce sounds, but they are usually infrequent and very soft.) The males rub their hind femur against a forewing, or rub a forewing against a hind wing in order to make their calls, a process called stridulation. Tympana, or eardrum-like structures on their abdomen, allow both male and female grasshoppers to hear. Because the songs are species-specific, females can readily identify males of the same species.

After pairing up, the smaller male grasshopper usually mounts the female and the female curls her abdomen up to reach the male’s reproductive organ (aedeagus) from which she receives a package of sperm called a spermatophore. The mating process can take from 45 minutes to more than a day, depending on the species. The small, pointed structures that you see at the tip of the female’s abdomen are her ovipositors, with which she deposits her eggs in the ground.

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Striped Skunk Mating Season

3-14-14 striped skunk 082Striped Skunks are on the prowl, as your nose may have told you recently – males are eagerly seeking out the company of females at this time of year and are often hit by cars traveling at night. The peak of Striped Skunk breeding season is typically the third week in March. Males will mate with several females in succession and then they often protect their harem against other males by hitting them (other males) with their shoulders or biting their legs. Once a female has been successfully bred, she will not allow further mating activity and will viciously fight any male that attempts it.

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Grasshoppers Mating and Laying Eggs

9-23-13 mating grasshoppers 137Grasshoppers typically mate in late summer and fall. If it’s a short-horned grasshopper (pictured), the smaller male mounts the female (female long-horned grasshoppers mount the males). The male short-horned grasshopper often remains riding the female for long periods in order to ensure paternity. When the eggs are fully formed, the female pushes the ovipositor at the end of her abdomen ½” to 2” into the ground and produces a glue-like secretion that cements the soil around the egg mass, forming a protective “pod.” Each pod may contain 25 to 150 eggs, depending on the species of grasshopper. Grasshoppers which deposit masses containing few eggs usually lay more pods to compensate. A female may lay as many as 300 eggs which overwinter and hatch in the spring.

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Slug Mating Behavior

9-2-13 slugs 035Slugs are hermaphroditic, possessing both male and female organs; most species mate, however, with one slug pursuing the slimy trail of another. If a slug is in mating mode, there is a chemical that is present in its slime that conveys this information to other slugs. When two receptive slugs first encounter each other, there can be extensive interaction prior to mating. The pursuer often mouths the tip of the tail of the slug it’s pursuing (see photograph) to confirm that it’s receptive. The pursued slug may shake its tail vigorously to signal that it’s not interested, in which case they go their separate ways. If the leading slug is receptive, however, mating eventually takes place, with sperm being transferred from each slug to the other through penises that extend half the length of their bodies. During this process, the sexual organs are entwined; occasionally, in some species, the organs get stuck. If this happens, one slug gnaws off the other’s penis in a process called apophallation. The penis is not replaced and the slug lives the rest of its life as a female. (The opening you see on the side of the slug is its respiratory opening, or pneumostome.)

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American Toads Calling

5-13-13 A. toad singing2 096Most of us are familiar with the American toad’s breeding call – a long trill that advertises his presence to potential mates in the area. However, American toads have three other calls, as well. A shortened version of the courtship trill, which sounds like a chirp, is given by male toad with its vocal pouch just slightly inflated. A second, release call, is often heard when a male is clasped by another male. (If you want to hear it, just pick up a male toad during the breeding season – it will vibrate as it chirps right in your hand. The combination of the call and the vibrations usually causes a clasping male to release his grip.) A fourth call, which has been recorded in the lab but not in the field, is a series of quiet clicks given by the male while clasping a female.


Spring Peepers Mating & Laying Eggs

spring peepers mating DA8A0504The mating season for spring peepers lasts two months or more, and judging from the sound that is coming from ponds and woodlands these days and nights, it is in full swing. Once a singing male is successful in attracting a female, he mounts and clasps her while depositing his sperm on her eggs. She lays up to 800 eggs, either singly or in small groups, on plants within the male’s territory. The frogs remain joined (a position known as “amplexus”) for up to four hours. After egg-laying and fertilization is completed, the female peeper returns to the woods; the male remains at the pond and resumes singing.


Frog Vocal Sacs

4-16-13  vocal sacs“Peeps” and “quacks” fill the air these days.  How is it that these frog calls travel so far?  It’s all thanks to a thin membrane , or sac, that most frogs have. Note the single inflated sac of the spring peeper, and the paired sacs on either side of the wood frog’s head. These vocal sacs act as resonating chambers, causing the male frog’s mating call to be amplified and carried far (some species of frogs can be heard over half a mile away). Most frogs have one of three basic types of vocal sacs: a single throat sac (the most common), paired throat sacs (partially separated by connective tissue) and paired lateral sacs (completely separate chambers on either side of the head). Vocal sacs are outpocketings of the floor of the frog’s mouth. When calling, a frog closes its mouth and nostrils, and expels air from its lungs through the larynx and into the vocal sacs. The vibrations of the larynx emit a sound which resonates within the vocal sacs. The frog continues calling as muscles within its body wall force the air back and forth between the lungs and vocal sac. The thickness of the vocal sac wall in frogs varies. Typically, small frogs that call in the air (spring peeper) have thin vocal sac walls, whereas those that call in the water, particularly large species (green and bull frogs) often have thick-walled vocal sacs that appear swollen, not inflated like a balloon, when filled with air.


Spring Peepers Emerging

4-8-13 spring peeper2 IMG_7463Sitting on top of the snow, still as a statue, a spring peeper gathers strength to make the long trek to open water, where, if it is a male, it will exercise its voice for the first time in many months. Like the gray treefrog and wood frog, spring peepers can freeze as solid as a rock for several months during hibernation and then, on a warm day, thaw out in a few hours and resume a normal, active life.  The formation of glucose and ice crystals that form outside of cells enable this phenomenon to occur.  Once hibernation has come to an end, peepers seek out wetlands, vernal pools and ponds to breed and lay eggs before they return to their home on the forest floor.


Wild Turkeys Mating

3-25-13 -wild turkeys mating P1040933The most prominent courtship behavior of male wild turkeys (toms) consists of two displays: gobbling and strutting. Both begin in late February in northern New England, before the females (hens) are receptive, but by late March the males begin to reap the fruits of their labor. The gobbling of the males attracts females or competing males over considerable distances. The tom turkey begins to “strut” only after a hen appears. While strutting, he fans his tail, lowers his wings with the primaries dragging on the ground/snow, elevates the feathers on his back and throws his head backward as he appears to glide around a female. If she is receptive, she assumes a “sexual crouch” on the ground, signaling to the male that he may mount her. (Thanks to Chiho Kaneko for this photograph.)


Mating Flies

3-18-13 mating flies IMG_6645 (2)It’s hard to believe that flies are not only active but mating now, given the snow and low temperatures that Vermont is still experiencing, but these two flies were perched atop coyote scat doing just that. They are in the Heleomyzidae family, whose members are often found in dark or cold places, and are most likely to be encountered in the spring or late fall. There are species associated with caves, mammal burrows, carrion and birds’ nests, in addition to scat.


Coyote Courtship

2-6-13 coyote in estrus IMG_1583For the past two to three months, coyote courtship has been taking place. Both males and females have been marking more frequently, and male coyotes have been traveling further than usual in search of a mate. A female has marked the top of the stump in the photograph – you can see the foot prints she made as she squatted to urinate. The blood-tinged urine indicates that she is in estrus, or heat. With luck, you might hear the duet of a male and female coyote that is sometimes sung just prior to copulation.


Mating Flower Longhorn Beetles

Flower Longhorn Beetles spend their larval life boring into decaying as well as live trees, depending on the species. As adults they leave their wooden tunnels to find food (nectar and pollen), new trees to tunnel in, and to mate. I recently found several pairs of Flower Longhorn Beetles mating on Queen Anne’s Lace, and all of the males had a transparent hose-like appendage coming from the tip of their abdomen which they inserted into the females as they bred. There is actually a name for this appendage – an aedeagus – and through it sperm capsules are delivered to the female. After breeding, the males retract their aedeagi, so they are not visible. Other insects possess aedeagi in different shapes and sizes, but those of longhorn beetles are considered to be among the most impressive.


Eastern Chipmunks Building Nests and Giving Birth

Eastern chipmunks typically have two litters a year, each consisting of 1 to 8 young (4 to 5 is usual). They give birth mid-April to mid-May and mid-July to mid-August.  The chipmunk in the accompanying photograph has a mouth full of dead leaves which it is carrying back to its underground tunnel where it makes a bulky, leaf nest for its young.  When they are born, the young chipmunks are roughly 2 ½ inches long and weigh .11 oz.  In about a month start looking for tiny chipmunks – the young are weaned and start venturing out of their tunnels in mid-June.


Woodchucks Preparing to Give Birth

Roughly a month ago woodchucks were at the peak of their mating season.  New England’s largest member of the Squirrel family is about to give birth to two to six young chucks. In preparation for this event, dead grasses are gathered and carried by mouth to the underground nest chamber, which is about 15 inches in diameter. Woodchucks are tidy rodents — the female covers her young’s waste with new bedding placed directly over the old, and when the nest becomes too bulky or unsanitary, the matted material is removed and fresh bedding is added.


Spring Peepers Still Calling

Although Spring Peepers emerged from hibernation about two months ago, on warm nights the males are still advertising for mates and will continue to do so into June. Let your ears guide you to the peepers as they call repeatedly, often while perched on low vegetation near water. Armed with a flashlight, look for the movement of their vocal sacs as they inflate and deflate as the peepers sing. 


Woodchucks Emerging and Mating

A sure sign of spring is the emergence of woodchucks, the largest members of the Squirrel family in New England, after a long winter’s sleep. Their arousal is easily noted, for when the males wake up, they do some excavating of their tunnel, scattering dirt all around it which is easily spotted on the snow (if there is still any snow left).  Equally obvious is the muddy trail they leave when in search of a female.  Mating takes place in March and April, and the resulting  litters of 2 to 6 young are born a month later.