(This article is best read in the voice of Planet Earth’s David Attenborough.)

In all corners of the world, species engage in elaborate mating rituals. However, the most ostentatious and complex courtship procedures may belong to the procurator generalis, or general manager. This is a large primate indigenous to the contiguous United States and southern Ontario. The general manager is an intelligent beast with varying amounts of fur on their head. Unlike most animals they have two active mating seasons per year, one in July and the other in the winter months, though they will occasionally mate out of season.

Fig. 1. – Procurator generalis

General managers are social creatures who live in large groups called teams. They are attended at all times by their young, known as front office staff, who are not yet sexually mature. They are also joined by a flock of birds with whom they enjoy a symbiotic relationship called the media. The media rely on general managers for food and protection from predators while cleansing their hosts of parasites. Both the front office staff and media are integral to the mating process.

The ritual begins in one of two ways. The general manager can send a front office staff to greet another team’s front office staff to start the process. Alternatively, they can simply use the loud squawk of the media to announce to other teams that they are ready to mate. Many potential partners will be found, and the dance beings!

While mating will occasionally start right away, the courtship dance usually takes days or weeks. The process can fall apart with any misstep. Front office staff will be dispatched to each other’s nests for inspection. General managers will make several calls back and forth to one another, as will each team’s media. Each prospective partner will perform an elaborate dance. If one general manager does not like what he or she sees, they will move on to a different team. Sometimes a general manager will feign disinterest to entice their partner to dance more and more. In this case, they may walk away and return several times, dancing with other partners in between.

The best indication that mating is about to commence is an increased level of activity from the media. Scientists do not yet understand how the media know precisely when general managers are about to mate. Nevertheless, they will become excited and overactive, with many birds tweeting incessantly and neglecting to sleep whatsoever. They will mirror the general manager’s every movement and pester front office staff constantly, begging for morsels of food. Occasionally the general manager’s team will become distracted by the increased agitation of the media, but most of the time they are simply tolerated.

Curiously, while the courtship is very loud and public, the actual act itself is quite private and has never been filmed on camera. When the deed is done, both general managers will emerge and communicate with their respective media, then retire to their nests. The birds will stay overactive for the next few days before resuming a normal level of activity, unless the general manager desires another partner and the entire mating process begins anew!

 

Photo by Keith Allison via Wikimedia Commons.

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