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Happy Valentine's Day! Erin Cantwell of the Maryland Zoo talks weird animal sex

Sex at the zoo is not always pretty.

In celebration of Valentine's Day, allow us to pause for a moment and reflect on how lucky we are, as humans, when it comes to mating.

Think we're exaggerating? Meet Erin Cantwell, 31, area manager for the giraffe house and farmyard at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. Saturday night, as part of the zoo's annual "Sex at the Zoo" Valentine's Day program, she'll be talking about some of the dangers of animal sex (that is, sex between animals … don't get any ideas).

As a sneak preview, Cantwell decided to focus on five dangerous situations sex-craving critters can find themselves in. We warn you, it's not pretty.

The kings (and queens) of beasts

"Lions are unique in that the females all come into estrous, or heat, at the same time. If they all have had cubs, then it takes them a long time before they come back into estrous. And one of the biggest things with lions is that new males are always taking over a pride. So when a new male comes in, the first thing he's going to do is kill off all the other cubs that are on the ground, because if he gets rid of all those cubs, then all the females come back into heat, and then he gets the opportunity to make his own cubs."

Chimps, on the sly

"I wanted to bring up the chimps, because, for chimps, having offspring is a status symbol. So, in general, there's only a couple of chimps that are supposed to mate – the dominant male and then a couple of the dominant females are the ones that should be making all the babies.

"But even our male, Jack, who is not our dominant male, will hang around as we put all the other animals out on exhibit. He'll hang back, and he does this little hip wiggle dance, to try to woo the ladies and get some. And they will literally have sex before they go out on exhibit.

A duck's life

"It has evolved evolutionarily that males have these ridiculous crazy, super-long corkscrew penises, and that's because the female's reproductive tract has gotten that complex. The female picks one male to mate with, but as soon as they start copulating, all the other male ducks come around and try to jump in and get on top of her, get their opportunity to mate.

"They're reproductive tract is so complex that the female can basically shut [out all but that one male], and just store his sperm in a little pocket off to the side. And then she can actually eject it later, and be like, 'Eh, I'm done with that.'

No wonder you've never heard of them

"There's a cat-sized marsupial in Australia that's called the quoll. The way it works for them is that all the females come into estrous at the same time, and the males get so crazy sex-crazed that they run around for, like, a couple or months or whatever, to mate with as many females as they possibly can.

"They literally mate for hours with their females. And they spend so much time looking for females and mating that they basically wear out and they stop eating and they die."

It's tough, being a drone

"The last one I have is male bees, which are called drones. They get to live for, like, three months in the summer, and then basically, they don't get to make it through the winter — the female bees who take care of the hive won't even feed them. They kick them all out. All the males die, every year.

"But if they get lucky enough to mate … when they insert — it's called an endophallus, which is their version of a penis — when they insert that into the female, when they're done ejaculating, it basically expands and rips in her. So they get this awful gaping hole in their abdomen, and they basically just fall to the ground and die."

"Sex at the Zoo" is set for 6 p.m.-9 p.m. Saturday2/14 at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, in Druid Hill Park. $80-$135. At press time, only a few tickets remained. marylandzoo.org.

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