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Nature Watch: Everything from Armadillos to Zebra Butterflies

Valentine's Month

Some folks love it, others dread it. But no matter what your feelings about Valentine's Day, there's no avoiding it. Even on a backcountry hike you'll likely be confronted by a courtship ritual of some sort. For the animals engaged in such displays, though, the whole month of February, not just Valentine's Day, is meant for romance.

Despite the chill that remains in much of North America, Raccoons, Minks, river otters, Gray and Red Foxes, Coyotes, and skunks all take time off from their mid-winter hunting to prowl for partners. Groundhogs start to look around longingly soon after they emerge from their long winter's sleep, and many of their rodent kin, from California Kangaroo Rats to Black-tailed Prairie Dogs, also consider February just the right time for rubbing noses.

Birds, too, at least a few of them, hit their romantic stride during the second month of the year. Great Horned Owls start hooting it up in December but mostly wait till now to take care of their romantic business. Male Red-winged Blackbirds return to much of the continent in February and start right in displaying and singing for prospective females, while American Woodcocks stage their delightfully bizarre courtship performances in the February twilight. And in the swamps of southern Florida, ungainly looking Wood Storks make hay in the February sunshine.

Also out under bright sunny southern skies are myriad butterflies looking for love. There are large Pipevine Swallowtails and diminutive Western Pygmy-Blues in Texas, gorgeous Zebra Heliconians and Gulf Fritillaries in Florida, Spring Azures and Long-tailed Skippers in the other Gulf States, and dainty Desert Marbles and Desert Orangetips in the Southwest. Wherever and whenever you see butterflies flying, even in February, you can rest assured that half of them are males on the lookout for lepidopteran love.

As for amphibians, their amorous inspiration comes in the form of a nice February rain. And when the rain falls, the amphibians emerge from their hibernation and march straight to breeding pools. Pond frogs, treefrogs, toads, and salamanders of all kinds take to the mating trail in February in the southern parts of the United States. The male frogs are at their vociferous best in their choruses to attract mates, while male salamanders vie for partners, too, though without the audible fanfare.

Even fish feel frisky these days, especially the Rainbow Trout in the Smokies and the Largemouth Bass in Texas. The same is true for animals in saltier waters: Humpback Whales, Northern Right Whales, Gray Seals, and Northern Elephant Seals have love on their marine-mammal minds, while far to the north in the pitch-black darkness of the Arctic winter Walruses have a gleam in their eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

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