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Red kangaroos have three vaginas, and other weird facts about animals' love lives

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Birds do it, bees do it -- and the Denver Zoo takes note of when and how, as explained in this week's cover story, "Beauty of the Beasts." Back in 1997, the zoo sent out a racy release touting a Valentine's Day "Animals and Amour" tour. It included facts about animal mating habits and, er, equipment, such as:

A female red kangaroo is born with three vaginas.

Although the zoo hasn't ever issued an update, staffer Brian Aucone offered other intimate details.

The following collection of fun facts is courtesy of the aforementioned 1997 press release and Aucone, who is the zoo's current vice president of animal care.

An adult male tapir, a large black-and-white animal that looks similar to a pig, has a 24-inch purple penis that coils up like a fire hose to fit in its body cavity.

A male gorilla, on the other hand, has a teeny-tiny penis, no more than three inches long -- even though the animal can weigh over 500 pounds. What's more, a gorilla isn't even a minute man; copulation lasts less than thirty seconds.

If gorillas are the forty-year-old virgins of the animal kingdom, then rhinos are the Stings. The male rhino can do it for an hour, ejaculating every 45 seconds (though one expert says it's more accurate to say that male rhinos experience "many multiple ejaculates").

But first the rhino has to catch the female.

Continue for more weird facts about animals' love lives, including photos. Both rhino genders like to play hard-to-get. When a female goes into estrus, or heat, she begins making a whistling noise and spraying urine, which signals to the male that she's ready to go. But when he tries to make it happen, she usually runs away (having second thoughts about that every-45-seconds thing, maybe?). He chases her for a bit before giving up. And once he does, it's her turn to try to seduce him. "Eventually," Aucone says, "it all works out."

Male giraffes have an odd way of telling whether a female is in the mood. The males will lick the females' urine as they're urinating, so that the effect looks somewhat like a drinking fountain. The purpose is to detect the hormones that signal the females are ovulating and ready for babymaking. "That tends to be a fun and odd one for guests," Aucone says. "They'll watch our male giraffe, and he'll kind of reach down and be sniffing on the[female's] back end. And all of a sudden, she'll pee and he'll lick it."

While giraffes may win the award for grossest foreplay, painted terrapin turtles win for the cutest. To entice the females to breed, the males will swim in front of them and use the long nails on their front feet to tickle the females' cheeks. "It's part of their mating dance," Aucone says. "Otherwise, it appears that those nails have no other purpose."

Some male animals will fight to establish dominance and the right to take the prettiest girl to the no-pants dance. But male ring-tailed lemurs, like those in the movie Madagascar, don't use their fists or their jaws. Instead, they use their stink. The males will rub the tips of their tails on their scent glands and then fling that scent toward other males to drive them off. For some reason, this seems to impress the ladies.

Other male animals, known as "sneaker males," don't bother with all that macho stuff. These sly Romeos simply make a move when their competition isn't looking. One of the best examples is the dung beetle. The upstanding male of the species will dig a hole and fill it with dung in order to attract a female. Once he snags a date, he stands outside that hole, guarding his new girlfriend from other would-be suitors. Meanwhile, Aucone explains, the sneakier males "will burrow from hole to hole under the ground and breed with the female while the other guy is up there guarding the hole." Suckers!

Continue for more weird facts about animals' love lives, including photos. Bonobos, which are a species of ape, are noteworthy because, like humans, they have sex for reasons other than reproduction. "When they have stress, that's how they comfort each other," Aucone says. "They use it as a social way of dealing with each other." Bonobos are also known to have make-up sex after they fight. "They'll actually use sex if they have a disagreement between individuals," Aucone notes. If you happen by the polar bear exhibit during breeding season, you might think that the white bears are a bit bonobo-ish, too. But you'd be wrong: While male and female polar bears can be quite fond of each other during breeding season, it's the opposite situation any other time of the year. "Naturally, in the wild, the females would avoid the males because the males may typically try to kill them for food," Aucone explains.

When the females are looking for love, though, the males tend to forget all about that food thing. Still, the females are cautious. "She'll be aggressive to let him know, 'Don't hurt me,'" Aucone says. Eventually, "he'll mount her and then they'll snuggle for a while, and then they'll go through this whole thing again where she's like, 'Hey, don't mess with me,' and then they'll breed and then they'll snuggle. They'll curl up together and sleep together, and that's not normal outside of breeding season for a polar bear."

What is the best time of year to see animal love at the zoo? Each animal's breeding season is different, Aucone says, but spring is a safe bet.

"Most guests understand and know what's happening and can explain it to their families or their children, so we don't usually get too many comments," he adds. Instead, the most typical reaction to catching a pair of animals mid-deed is "a lot of giggling and a lot of uncomfortable, 'Oh, what's happening here? Oh, geez!'

"But everybody watches."

For more on animal love, read our cover story, "Beauty of the Beasts."

Follow me on Twitter @MelanieAsmar or e-mail me at melanie.asmar@westword.com

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