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Why not every day?

Following the dolphin discussion. Many would ask: why animals, being as concerned with sex as humans, won’t do it 365 days a year? It seems it’s just an instinct to them anyway…

(Again that ‘instinct’ word)

Now we’ll talk about mooses, whose mating period is in early autumn.


So why wouldn’t they mate in other seasons as well?

A short answer: for the same reason as humans at the age of five don’t. They don’t want to. And there are good evolutionary reasons for that.

Sexual desire is regulated by hormones. No hormone in moose’s blood, and the idea of sex won’t even cross its mind. It works the same in mooses, in humans, and in everything else. No hormone – no sex drive.

So, why then the hormone is not produced all the time?

The hormone, the sexual desire – both exist for single purpose only: to make animals leave all their daily business, risk their lives and resources to produce next generations. All animals are selfish. Wasting their time on some mating games, exercising in pairs and carrying embryos in their belly – is not something that selfish animals would normally do. Unless you offer them something nice for the effort. Sexual pleasure is the reward. How good it is – people don’t need an explanation.

Nature: Hey Moose, time to breed. Make some little moosies.
Moose: Why? I better eat.
Nature: Okay, forget the moosies. Wanna feel nice? Look how stunning that she-moose is!
Moose: Now we talkin!

Mating was already mentioned as an activity of high risk. In wild nature, game rules are different: energy is the currency, organic matter is the resource. In that context, mating is not just risky, but extravagant. Both sexes act against their interests to make the next generation happen. She-moose invests into its little beastie a bloody fortune and seven shitloads of resources. He-moose spends just as much, through mating rituals, fighting for females etc. In early autumn, mooses are busy with their business: feeding, preserving energy, looking for new territories. A small failure in these activities will result in death: a moose doesn’t have a safe-room behind a steel door, with a comfy bed and a loaded fridge. No phone to call for police when in trouble.

How it happens

Let us start with a male guy. So, our he-moose in the beginning of autumn is busy collecting resources to survive harsh winter, preserving energy (wolves are everywhere). And suddenly he sees an attractive she-moose. He:

1. Leaves all his business behind. All food he could have found in several days won’t be found.
2. Gets into fights with other males. One such fight is loss of large energy amounts, otherwise used to avoid wolves. Three such fights – and he-moose barely stands. More importantly: any injury received in a fight most likely means death. There are no doctors, no anti-tetanus inoculations. There are wolves instead, who smell blood from miles away and spot one injured moose amongst hundreds of healthy. ANY scratch. Got injured – consider ordering a tombstone. In tropics, it’s even worse: meat flies, viruses.
3. Next, he tries to impress the girl. Waste of time and energy, again. There’s always a chance to be friendzoned, then all the effort will be wasted. Triple risk.
4. The nice thing. Male’s on top, obviously – she-moose won’t even consider other options. Again, energy expense, then dumping of valuable protein, you know on what. Moose is a herbivore, by the way – there’s always the lack of protein.
5. Moose finished. Now he is left all alone, tired and exhausted, against the nature. He, unfortunately, has no luxury to wait for that nice feeling of weakness to go away. But wolves really adore guys like him, “nicely weak”. “You had some nice time. Now our turn!”

Let’s assume that it indeed happened, and our hard-working moose fell victim to wolves. Sad, but who cares – he made his contribution to the Biosphere: female’s impregnated, wolves are full.

Now to lady she-moose. She has enjoyed very much all the attention from males (there probably were several who were after her). That was actually the boring part. Now the fun begins:

1. Throughout seven months she is going to invest into the content of her belly around 15 kg of pure organic matter and twenty seven loads of energy. All this time she’s gonna wander around looking for food: it’s winter, scarce season, and she has to feed two mouths at the same time (one mouth and one placenta, more precisely). Her huge belly keeps causing her severe ridiculitis attacks, and makes her look delicious to wolves.
2. In seven months, true torture begins: baby delivery. There is a high chance that she won’t survive it at all: there are no midwives, no-one to perform Cesarean section on her. In many species, mortality rates in females during delivery is as high as 10% (spotted hyena, for example). If she is lucky not to end in the process, she’ll be weakened anyway. Remains of placenta and amniotic tissues will soon come out of her private place, which smells as far as to Africa. Wolves will come soon, and she-moose is better to get the hell out of there. Although there is a little problem: she now has to stick close to a being that can barely walk.
3. For several months she is to spend valuable resources on milk production, spend her time, otherwise spent on food searching, on caring after the little one. If it’s attacked, she has to protect it. Injury equals to death, as you already know.
4. Finally, the little one is big and strong enough. She-moose is happy… oh, no. In a month, another nice guy will be courting her, and the nightmare will start all over again.

Probably, males are luckier

Now imagine that all of this is completely pointless. All is a waste! The death of the male who could have been eating bark happily. That huge risk taken by female (who could have also been eating bark). How to make it pointless? Easy – deliver the little one in winter, for example. When there’s no food, freezing wind is blowing, and weak baby moose will be literally destroyed. Have sex with he-moose in spring, deliver a baby in winter, and the baby is doomed.

Number one imperative of any animal can be formulated as “surviving long enough to give as many offsprings as possible”. Only the most adapted survive long enough, and being most adapted means, among other things, being able to protect oneself from their own mistakes. Like investment in hopeless descendants. Okay, there is a phantasmal chance that offspring born in winter will survive, and mooses would readily be minting babies like coins all year along. Problem is, making a moose baby is not an easy task – I have described the process in detail. Chances that she-moose dies herself while investing into winter offspring are incomparably higher than chances of such offspring to survive. And if she dies, she won’t have another change to breed in better season. Babies have to come in time, only when the chances of their survival are the highest, while even the slightest chance of giving birth in wrong time must be eliminated. Try giving two litters per year, and you give zero.

And what’s the simplest way to not allow delivery of babies at bad times? Correct: make sure that mooses don’t wanna do the thing any time other than early autumn. Release the hormones at specific period only and remove them from blood throughout the rest of year.

Q: Why humans then breed throughout the year?
In following cases the breeding can be chaotic:

а) When chances of offsring survival are about the same throughout the year. E.g., somewhere around equator. Or in endoparasites.
б) When offspring is cheap, and requires no substantial investments. Then organisms can breed all the time: survive their offspring or not, who cares? Parents can try anyway and loose nothing. This case rarely occurs tough, if ever.

Why people aren’t like mooses? We simply do not depend on seasonal fluctuations when raising children. We bred all the year well enough 200000 years ago in Africa, we did it well 2000 years ago living in wooden huts. As for modern people – it’s beyond easy. Seriously, if you think that raising a baby is hard, sing “the moose story” to yourself Also, for people as pack species, seasonal breeding can even be detrimental. Imagine a tribe of 100 people, and once a year 40 babies suddenly fall on their heads. It’s better to breed in small portions throughout the year – higher survival chances for everyone.

Anyway, we are not alone who breeds all the time.

A delicacy for thought: if you ever think that having sexual life is difficult, and that it’s all complicated – cheer up. Could be much worse. Say, you could have been born a moose


Further reads

Previous article: The Dolphin Story
Next article: Homo uniquus
List of all articles about reproductive biology

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