Opening just in time for Valentine's Day, this revealing new exhibit explores some of the wildest mating strategies in the animal kingdom
SAN FRANCISCO (December 20, 2011)—From sex change to cannibalism, the natural world is filled with wild mating strategies. In a new aquarium gallery titled Animal Attraction, the California Academy of Sciences delves into the science of sex, exploring the remarkable and often surprising techniques animals have developed for attracting mates and producing offspring. Visitors will encounter hermaphroditic banana slugs, cannibalistic praying mantises, parasitic anglerfish, and more than a dozen other creatures. Animal Attraction opens to the public on Saturday, February 11, 2012, with a sneak peek during NightLife on Thursday, February 9.
In a series of eighteen tanks, the exhibit will explore the concept that nothing in life is more important than reproductive success. Sex—the passing on and mixing of genes—drives evolution, and is responsible for much of what we consider beautiful in the natural world. If not for reproduction, plants wouldn't bloom, birds wouldn't sing, and deer wouldn't sprout antlers. For the first time, the Academy will use iPads as exhibit labels, allowing visitors to flip through gorgeous images, watch videos of these strategies and behaviors in action, and guide their own digital explorations using interactive touch screens throughout the exhibit. Throughout the museum, Academy docents will bring these and other stories to life, sharing tales of how giraffes know when the time is right, why cacao couldn't reproduce without the help of a specific fly, and more.
Animal Attraction will highlight a diverse array of strategies that animals and plants have developed for attracting a partner, and passing along their genes to the next generation, including:
- Extreme Mating
Truth can be stranger than fiction when it comes to reproductive strategies in the animal kingdom. When a male Ceratioid anglerfish finds a mate, he literally latches on and won't let go. After biting into the female, the two fuse permanently, and the male will gradually atrophy until he's nothing more than a pair of gonads. This extreme sexual dimorphism ensures that when the time is right, the female has one or more mates at the ready. For promiscuous garden snails, also part of the exhibit, males who successfully fire a "love dart" at a prospective partner double their chances of paternity.
- The Art of Attraction
Cutting through the clutter is serious business when it comes time to attract a mate. Male bower birds of Australia construct bowers—elaborate display arenas decorated with twigs, leaves, and brightly colored objects from berries to bits of plastic—in which to woo females with their architectural prowess, flashy dances, and vocalizations. The exhibit will include a colorful bower modeled after an example found in the wild.
- Dangerous Sex
Courtship is often at odds with survival. But the need to find and seduce a mate is one of the most powerful forces of evolution. In some species, like the praying mantis and salmon pink birdeater spider featured in the exhibit, females will sometimes devour males before, during or after copulation, a practice known as sexual cannibalism. For coral banded shrimp, also on display, the trick to a monogamous relationship is fierce aggression toward others of the same sex. Living in pairs, these shrimp will fight their mate's potential suitors to the death. Visitors will also get up close and personal with a coconut octopus—for this animal, like other octopus species, sex is a tragic milestone. After mating, females will stop hunting in order to care for thousands of eggs, surviving just until they hatch.
- Creative Parenting
Parental care in the animal kingdom ranges from intensive to practically non-existent, with numerous permutations in between. At the climax of courtship, male and female splashing tetras (small silver fish native to the Amazon) lock together and leap out of the water to lay and fertilize clutches of eggs on the undersides of leaves, away from the reach of predators. At that point, mom's job is done, and dad hangs around for another 36-72 hours, using his tail to splash water on each egg cluster at one-minute intervals, until the eggs hatch and fall into the water, at which point parental care ceases. Depending on the species and environment, male Betta fish will care for their yet-to-hatch fry by constructing a bubble nest at the surface of the water, or by keeping the brood in his mouth for one to two weeks until they hatch.
Beyond the aquarium exhibit, visitors will have an opportunity to explore other fascinating stories from the world of plant and animal reproduction through special programs offered throughout the Academy:
- Animal Attraction Nightlife (Ages 21+)
Thursday, February 9 from 6-10 pm
Enjoy a sneak peek at Animal Attraction before it opens to the general public, and gain an entirely new perspective on the birds and the bees. Get to know potential mates through creative activities and games, and explore the science of attraction among fishes, insects—even humans. On a docent tour, hear about mating chains under the sea, tortoises that don't reach sexual maturity until age 40, and more. Participating organizations include the Center for Sex and Culture, and the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality. Music by Sweater Funk DJ Crew. Every Thursday night, music, creatures and cocktails come together for NightLife at the Academy. Guests must be age 21 and over to attend. Admission is $12 ($10 for Academy members). Tickets are available at www.calacademy.org/nightlife.
- The Magic of Life
Friday - Monday at 12 pm (starting Feb. 9)
In almost 4 billion years, the quirks of reproduction and evolution have created an astounding variety of life forms on Earth. Take a closer look at some of the world's most wondrous animals, through imagery, video and specimens, and gain a new perspective on how reproduction drives evolution. Free with Academy admission.
- Pollination Partners: Bees and Flowers
Daily at 1 pm
Pollinators like bees are a crucial link in ecosystems and agriculture around the world, allowing flowering plants—from roses and sunflowers to cotton and strawberries—to reproduce year after year. Bees, who depend on these plants for nectar, communicate the locations of flowers to each other with dances. In this fun, interactive program, discover how these pollination partners help one another, and perform a bee-dance of your very own. Free with Academy admission.
- Penguin Feedings: Sea of Love Edition
Daily at 10:30 am & 3 pm
The Academy's African Penguins live in a fascinating social colony. These relationships—who is mating with whom, arranged marriages and family squabbles—are always especially apparent during meal time. Watch the birds dip and dive, strut and show off in their tank at the end of African Hall as a biologist dons a wet suit and hands out vitamin-stuffed herring and capelin. Free with Academy admission.
- Coral Reef Dives: Sea of Love Edition
Daily at 11:30 am & 2:30 pm
Watch as a diver suits up in SCUBA gear and plunges into the world's deepest living coral reef exhibit. Outfitted with an underwater microphone, the diver will discuss love on the reef—from clownfish dads who become clownfish moms to coral spawning and captive breeding programs—and the amazing adaptations these animals have to thrive in this ecosystem. Free with Academy admission.
- Specimen Spotlight
Fridays at 11:30 am
Did you know the Academy is home to more than 26 million specimens?! That?s a lot of fur, feathers, teeth and spines! Join naturalists at the Project Lab who will highlight a different specimen each week, with a special focus on reproductive strategies in the animal kingdom. Free with Academy admission.
- Chat With an Academy Scientist – Ages 10+
Second and fourth Wednesday of the month at 1:30 pm
March 14 & 28: Academy curator Luiz Rocha, on the unique reproductive lives of fishes. Meet Academy scientists who study the reproductive strategies of plants and animals all around the globe. Join them for a fascinating look at their work to explore the world, discover new life, and help explain Earth?s amazing story. Free with Academy admission.
- Animal Tales – Ages 2-5
Every Saturday at 11 am
Every 1st and 3rd Monday at 10 am
Feb. 11 theme: Amazing Seahorse Dads
Feb. 18 theme: Amazing Whale Moms
Feb. 20 theme: Baby Giraffes
Feb. 25 theme: Amazing Sea Turtle Moms
March 3 theme: Amazing Fish Parents
March 5 theme: Babies in Eggs
March 10 theme: Amazing Octopus Moms
March 17 theme: Amazing Amphibian Moms
March 19 theme: Baby Ducks
Children ages 2-5 and their parents or caregivers are invited to the Early Explorers Cove to listen to tales about nature, science, and the wonderful world around us. Stories come to life with songs and items like felt boards, rhythm sticks, and natural specimens. Free with Academy admission.
- Family Nature Crafts – Ages 5-10
Every Sunday from 11 am - 12 pm
February 12 craft: Amazing Dad—Emperor Penguin
February 19 craft: Amazing Mom—Surinam Toad
February 26 craft: Amazing Dad—Lumpsucker Fish
March 4 craft: Amazing Dad—Seahorse
March 11 craft: Amazing Mom—Octopus
March 18 craft: Amazing Dad—Three-spined Stickleback Fish
Get creative with craft projects designed for families with children aged 5-10. Free with Academy admission.
45 Word Exhibit Description
From fish that can change sex to insects that eat their mates and snails that shoot "love darts," discover some of the wildest mating strategies in the animal kingdom in Animal Attraction, a revealing new exhibit of live animals at the California Academy of Sciences.
The California Academy of Sciences is home to Steinhart Aquarium, Morrison Planetarium, Kimball Natural History Museum, and world-class research and education programs—all under one living roof. Admission to the Academy is: $29.95 for adults; $24.95 for youth ages 12 to 17, Seniors ages 65+ and students with valid ID; $19.95 for children ages 4 to 11; and free for children ages 3 and younger. Admission fees include all exhibits and shows. Hours are 9:30 am - 5pm Monday - Saturday, and 11 am - 5 pm on Sunday. During peak periods, including some holiday weekends, an admission surcharge and extended hours may apply. Visit www.calacademy.org or call (415) 379-8000 for more information.