‘Planet Earth: Incredible Families’

Another good bird example are the Hornbills. A female will actually entomb herself in a tree cavity, to protect her eggs or chicks from predators like snakes. She will rely on her mate to bring food to her and her chicks until they’re ready to fly. Then, they’ll hammer out the cavity and fly off.

For insects, scorpions carry their young on their back, and there are fish that carry their offspring in their mouth to protect them. There are lots of examples in the animal kingdom, but I think the ones that people relate to the most are mammals that have young that require a great deal of parental care.

Which animal, in your opinion and through your field research has the most interesting courtship and mating ritual?
Thomas: One that I find really interesting and also very challenging with respect to my job as a zoo biologist, is the courtship behavior of the Greater One Horned Rhinos. This species has a fairly short estrous period. Females only come into estrus about every 45 days and the courtship behavior is characterized by a great deal of very aggressive chasing and fighting. There’s an adaptive value to that because it’s the female’s way of essentially choosing a really fit male the father of her offspring. Only those really fit males will chase her for long periods of time and have the stamina to engage in bouts of aggressive sparring and fighting between chases. It’s the female who decides when to stop the running and fighting and allow the male to mate with her. The pair will actually breed for about an hour, so it’s not your typical mammalian mating behavior. Rhinos also have a very long gestation — for Indian Rhinos it’s about 480 days — so it’s a challenge for us to get animals past that aggressive courtship phase to mate. Then there’s that long wait until you have a calf on the ground.

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