What do peacocks and high school students have in common? They’re all trying to dress to impress as they play the dating game.
Proximity Learning virtual teacher and zoologist Casey Harris leads a free after-school enrichment program about animals. She guides students through an activity to identify the various ways that animals find their mates and compares it to the human dating game.
The human mating game
First, Mrs. Harris discusses how humans find their mates. We use a process called “dating” to evaluate potential matches. Students say that while dating, they would consider a person’s looks, personality, and complementary interests.
Mrs. Harris says humans look for physical attractiveness, successful careers, strength, and kindness in a potential mate. She reminds students, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” and different people find different characteristics attractive.
Animals similarly evaluate potential matches, just with different criteria. She says, “Even animals are looking for something specific in a mate.” However, time is important because animals don’t have years to date like humans. They must select a match quickly - some only have hours to make their choice.
How does the animal kingdom find the perfect mate?
Humans get dressed up, style their hair, wear perfume, and give flowers to attract positive attention. Animals show off their colors, scents, and talents to pique the interest of the opposite sex. Mrs. Harris gives students examples and shows videos demonstrating the variety of animal mating rituals.
Male peacocks spread their colorful feathers to find a mate - the more vibrant, the better. These are the birds you usually picture when you think about beautiful green and blue peacocks. The females look very different - they are brown and dull-colored to blend in with the nest as they protectively sit on their eggs. Both of these color combinations serve a purpose in the animal mating game.
Many birds use noises during mating season to signal that they are single and ready to mingle. Mrs. Harris gives an example via video. The clip shows how male Kakapo parrots use an unusual song to attract females up to 5 kilometers away. Their voice travels far to interest as many females as possible. Once the mates approach, the Kakapo changes its voice to signal its exact location.
Flamingos use their vibrant pink color and perform a special dance to gain attention. When one flamingo starts moving and grooving, the others follow suit like a flash mob. It is a spectacular scene when hundreds of these birds dance in sync. Scientists have identified over 100 different flamingo movements used to stand out in the crowd.
Some animals create art or present gifts as a sign of their intentions. A tiny 5-inch male pufferfish creates spectacular 22-foot works of art in the sand and decorates them with rocks and shells. If a female likes it, they will lay their eggs directly in the center. These communications clearly signal their mating intentions.
Bowerbirds scavenge for blue or black items to impress a mate with their collection. They elaborately stage their belongings on the forest floor. Then, the males present each gift one by one to capture the attention of the females.
Elk initiate fights with their competitors and don’t stop until one gives up. In these violent fights, elk use their antlers and the force of their heavy weight against each other.
Female peacock spiders eat males if they are not impressed with their mating dance. These spiders are judged as they dance and either meet their mate or meet their maker.
“So you’ve probably noticed a lot of these animals have a couple of different rituals that they use,” special guest Kathy Fischer says. “They might use strength and smell. They might use color and gifts. A lot of animals have multiple rituals, just like humans have multiple things that we might do to try to attract someone to us.”
Experienced virtual teachers bring bonus qualifications
Casey Harris is a zoologist and certified virtual teacher with Proximity Learning. She has spent her career studying animals and teaching about her discoveries. Proximity Learning is thrilled to have such skilled professionals teaching in our virtual schools because they bring unique perspectives to students regardless of where they might be located.
Proximity Learning teachers are content-certified and often have value-adds in their resumes like Mrs. Harris. This extra experience brings unique opportunities for students to learn about more than just the subject matter taught in their core classes.
Well-rounded backgrounds give our teachers the tools to give students real-life examples as they follow the curriculum. Proximity Learning teachers do more than teach for the test - they give real-life examples to help students engage and remember the content.
Click here to see another edition of Proximity & Beyond featuring Mrs. Harris’ Zoology whodunnit.
Virtual learning with expert teachers
Proximity & Beyond is an exclusive after-school enrichment program for our virtual school clients. To participate, click here to learn more about Proximity Learning virtual schools.