Male Giraffes Drink Female's Urine Before Mating, Here's Why These Long-Necked Animals Do the Flehmen Response

Male giraffes use a unique approach to determine whether a female is ready to mate, according to a study published on January 19 in the journal Animals by animal behaviorists Lynette and Benjamin Hart. The female giraffe's Valentine's Day gift to potential mates is urine, which allows the males to detect pheromones that indicate readiness to mate. Through their research, the Hart discovered that giraffes have a pheromone-detecting organ with a stronger connection to the mouth than the nose, explaining why males use their tongues to sample the urine stream of females to select a mate.

According to Lynette Hart from the University of California, Davis, while animals like male gazelles use the technique of licking fresh urine on the ground to track the readiness of females to mate, the long necks and heavy heads of giraffes make this method impractical for them. Bending over to investigate urine on the ground would put giraffes in an unstable and vulnerable position.

Tasting Urine To Determine Mating Readiness
Unlike male gazelles, which have a body shape that allows them to bend over and lick fresh urine from the ground, giraffes have long necks and heavy heads, making it difficult to do so. According to Science News, bending over to investigate urine on the ground would be an awkward and unsteady position for a giraffe, which could make it vulnerable to predators or other dangers in its environment.

Therefore, male giraffes have evolved a unique behavior to determine the readiness of females to mate. They use their long tongues to sample the urine stream of females, which allows them to detect pheromones that signal their readiness to mate without putting themselves in a vulnerable position. This behavior effectively allows male giraffes to find suitable mates without exposing themselves to unnecessary risks.

Lynette and Benjamin Hart, who researched giraffe behavior, have reported that they have never observed giraffes investigating urine on the ground. The Harts examined preserved giraffe specimens and found that giraffes have a stronger connection between the vomeronasal organ (VNO) and the mouth, via a duct, compared to the connection between the VNO and the nose, which is found in many other mammals.

Male Giraffes Flehmen Sequence

Male giraffes use a technique known as the "Flehmen sequence" to determine whether a female is in heat and ready to mate. The male approaches the female and rubs against her backside until she urinates. If she does, the male will taste the urine to determine whether she is in heat. If she is, he will begin to pursue her, while the female may walk or run away from him.

During this time, the male will try to keep other males away from the female to ensure that he has exclusive access to her. However, the female may reject the male's advances to see if she can attract a better mate or to incite competition between males. This way, giraffes' mating process can be complex and competitive.

One possible explanation for this difference could be that a VNO-nose link helps animals that breed at specific times of the year detect seasonal plants, according to Benjamin Hart, a veterinarian at the University of California, Davis. However, giraffes can mate at any time of the year, so their nasal connection may not be as important. This unique oral connection of the VNO may explain why male giraffes use their tongues to sample urine from females to detect pheromones that signal readiness to mate. This method of mate selection has proven to be an effective strategy for giraffes, which can breed year-round without needing to rely on seasonal cues.

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