‘Mating Game’ attracts students to Bell Museum

Erin Ghere

Stumped for a means to court their Valentine’s Day sweethearts, some turned to nature.
The Bell Museum of Natural History held its second annual “The Mating Game” over the Valentine’s day weekend.
Participants learned about animal courtship rituals through museum biologist Jennifer Menken and the museum’s appropriately decorated exhibits Saturday and Sunday night.
The 90-minute tour allowed guests to learn about the behaviors of moose, elk, eagles, prairie chickens and other wild animals native to the Midwest.
Participants received factual accounts of animal courtship and sex with a light spin, Menken said.
Perfume bottles, boxes of chocolates and bags decorated with hearts showed up throughout the night, but were adjusted to fit the particular animal’s courtship normalities.
A box of chocolates — a well known Valentine’s Day gift between people — was filled with mice, a gift that a northern herier hawk might appreciate.
“The gift is saying, ‘Look, I can provide for you,'” Menken said.
Other parallels between animals and human beings were made throughout the tour, allowing guests to see how their rituals are not all that different from those of nature.
Some animals flaunt their attributes for potential mates, much the same as people do.
“For elk, antlers are the equivalent of gold chains and a red car,” Menken said.
Dual penises are not unusual among the reptile community, particularly in snakes and crocodiles.
Dancing to find a mate is also common, Menken said. Male prairie chickens dance, sometimes for days, inside a giant circle while females stand on the outside and choose their mates.
Video footage, descriptions, photographs and tape recordings aided the audience’s imagination.
“It’s what the average person wants to know,” she said, adding the tour doesn’t go into great depth to keep the spirit of the evening fun.
The night concluded with a dessert reception, during which participants mingled and asked questions.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Katherine Burke, distance learning specialist at the museum, who brought her boyfriend on the tour last year.
The idea came about when the San Francisco Zoo began offering a week of similar tours before Valentine’s Day 10 years ago. The Bell museum is one of the only other natural history museums in the country to offer it, Menken said.
She had the idea for several years before the museum allowed her to try it last year. It was a success, selling out two tours, and causing two more to be added.
The museum plans to continue the tradition and supplement different animals in the coming years, Menken added.