I love animals. That said, not every lovely-dovey thing we think about animals is necessarily all that lovely-dovey. Take, for example, the Kissing Gourami. As anyone who had an aquarium as a kid can tell you, these are relatively hardy, interesting and unfortunately inexpensive animals, which means they are also very common fish tank residents. Native to Southeast Asia, the pet shop specials are commercially bred in Florida, their natural green coloring selectively bred out over successive generations to produce a bright pink-silver fish with a well-deserved name: these fish kiss. They kiss the top of their waters, big exaggerated lip smacking kisses, and they kiss each other lips to lips. The top of the water kissing is easy to explain: unlike most fish, these animals take oxygen from the air rather than the water, and so kissing is actually gulping. The kissing each other remains a bit of a debate among fish folk but most believe it is a form of territorial aggression, the best kisser (typically male to male) winning the best spot for attracting a mate.
How about the Praying Mantis? With front legs clasped before their faces as if deep in prayer, love-making is only successful if the female gets to eat the male’s head during sexual intercourse. Talk about a bad first (and last) date, and for such a seemingly devout bug! While Lovebirds can in fact be credited with deserving that name (these small parrots are monogamous for life, and their attention to each other is reminiscent of what you might see at the junior prom), that loving behavior is quite often reserved exclusively for each other; human caretakers routinely find themselves living instead with Nipping Birds. (A naming strategy perhaps like that for Greenland, since tourism would be tough to promote for Freeze-Your-Butt-Offland.)
But as I said, I love animals – and as someone who reads this column, I bet you do too. Loving animals, I suggest, means appreciating them for who and what they are, recognizing that their behaviors are not simple reflections of our own but instead are what they have developed over the millennia to be successful. If we use ourselves as the lens by which we interpret animal behavior, we do so inherently in the wrong context.