Famous Strange Courtship Rituals

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The courtship ritual is an interesting social concept ‘ the idea that a male or female of any species must go through certain things in order to woo the object of their desires; it has been the study of many scientific papers. It isn’t just men courting women with flowers and chocolates: in some cultures it is the woman who courts the man. Nor is it just humans, some animal species have weird and wonderful courtship rituals. Here is a list of some of the most interesting and bizarre.

1. A Knife? How Romantic!


One Finnish tradition that died sometime in the 20th century would see eligible young ladies going about their daily business with an empty puukko knife sheath attached to their girdles. This was an open display of her single status. It was the man’s role to either purchase or to forge a knife to put in the sheath. If she kept it, it was a socially binding agreement to marry the man. If she was not interested then she was duty-bound to return it to him. The puukko was a knife for everyday use.

2. A Symbol of My Love’¦ A Spoon


A Welsh tradition going back some 400 years sees the exchange of intricately carved wooden spoons between couples. These ‘lovespoons’ were carved and then decorated by the menfolk to give to the ladies as a symbol of their intentions. Similarly to the puukko knives above, if the woman accepted the spoon she was socially bound to marry the man. If she was not interested, she had to return the utensil to him. Though not used in courtship, they are still given as gifts today in certain circumstances.

3. Stay Away From My Daughter!

 Edward Boring and Annette Kellerman in 1916 film "A Daugter of the Gods"

Edward Boring and Annette Kellerman in 1916 film “A Daugter of the Gods”

17th Century New England was a haven of puritanism so naturally, parents wanted to keep their sons and daughters away from the temptations of the flesh until married. Young courting couples would do anything for a bit of privacy but at the same time parents tried to keep them apart. Enter the ‘Courting Stick’ a six foot long hollow tube through which couples could converse at a safe distance to prevent any physical contact from taking place. Parents would of course stay in the room to make sure they did not break that six foot boundary.

4. It’s All in the Fan Signals

Queen Victoria
Queen Victoria

Victorian ladies were supposed to be rather chaste. Any attempt at encouraging men was frowned upon by the sex and death obsessed occupants of nineteenth century England. Unfortunately as with now, men can sometimes be poor at getting hints from women so the ladies fan became a universal indicator. A closed fan resting on the left cheek meant that she was not interested in you. If on the right cheek, she is interested in you. Slow fanning meant that she was already taken but quick fanning meant that she was ‘actively searching’!

5. Love Shack Baby!


There is an interesting concept that has grown up separately in Africa and Cambodia ‘ the concept of a ‘Love Shack’ where prospective young couples go to spend time out of the way of prying eyes. The love hut / shack is built by the family for the daughter and while in it she has the freedom to entertain any and every man she sees fit until she has chosen a suitor. Divorce is a social taboo so she is given the free run to decide in order that she chooses wisely from her full list of options.

6. The Language of Flashing

Language of Flashing
Language of Flashing

There’s safety in numbers and a good chance of mating in being part of a crowd, when you’re a firefly. The flashing they have been observed engaging in has a language ‘ with certain flashes meaning different things. When a group of males are in synch, it is usually a mating ritual indicating to willing females that they are collectively available and most importantly, all part of the same species (and not predators). Females too have a language and can indicate to males their willingness and availability.

7. Spreading it About

Spreading it About

In the human world, diarrhoea and incontinence would be an immediate deal breaker on a date ‘ not for hippos though. The male will store up urine and faeces during the mating season in order to show it off to prospective females. Not only does he attempt to be the one who can deliver the most, but through his bodily actions he attempts to spread it far and wide. Presumably the female’s sensory glands are attracted to the most pungent as though he is marking his territory.

8. A Peeing Contest

Male giraffe

Human males are often accused of engaging in ‘peeing contests’ in order to prove they are better at performing often the most pointless acts. For giraffes though, this is an essential part of courting. During the mating season, male giraffes follow female giraffes around, poking them in their backsides until they urinate. He will then taste the urine and if it is palatable to him (he can identify a satisfactory level of oestrogen) he will follow her around until she is ready to mate.

9. A Different Type of Necking


If it isn’t bad enough that they are virgins until the age of forty, tortoises have a pretty tough time trying to impress the ladies. You see, size is everything to lady tortoises and as they are so slow they will take a long time deciding which male to mate with. Invariably it will be the males with the longest necks and groups of males have been observed demonstrating their attributes to the females. Those with stumpy necks are often seen humping rocks out of frustration.

10. A Ritual Fit For Emperors

Emperor Penguins
Emperor Penguins

Emperor Penguins are so-called for their regal appearance. However, their actions during the mating ritual are no less high society than their appearance. Travelling the length and breadth of Antarctica during the year they congregate in large groups during the mating season. The males stand rooted to the spot trumpeting a bugle-like sound in calls for eligible females to approach. When a suitable female approaches (purely on the basis of liking his voice) over the next few minutes the two size each other up and persistently bow to each other in declaring their consent for the mating.


This is a list of some of the most bizarre and interesting dating rituals from the world of human cultures and from the animal kingdom. Despite the apparent dominance of males attracting the females, there are often many ways in which nature or society ‘allows’ or even encourages the females to entice potential male suitors. There are many more examples, some just as weird and wonderful as those shown here.

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