Critter Cupids: Animals in Love

Ever wonder how a giant panda says I love you? Or how a sea lion bonds with a best friend?

Valentine’s Day–it’s not just for humans. Courtesy of the National Zoo

This Valentine’s Day, take a cue from our furry friends and bond with the best of them. The National Zoo is spreading the love this year with their very own “Critter Cupids,” custom cards  whose proceeds go to the wonderful animals that inspired them.

We got the inside scoop from caretakers and Zoo officials about all the many ways animals say, Happy Valentine’s Day.

Animal puns are the most romantic gift you can give, according to nine out of ten Zoo creatures. Courtesy of the National Zoo

Sea lions, Rebecca Miller: “Our sea lions often greet each other by touching noses or blowing on each other. They greet us this way too sometimes when we go out to feed or train.”

“They are also very playful with each other and will play tag or tug of war with objects that we give them. They have no real concept of personal space, often piling on top of each other when they sleep and using each other’s bodies as pillows.”

“Our two older unrelated females, Summer and Calli, were rescued as pups within a few days of each other and were raised together. They used to suck on each other’s ear flaps when they were younger–not so much anymore.”

“And they always prefer to be together. They’ll get antsy and easily stressed if separated from each other for long amounts of time.”

Take a tip from the National Zoo’s giant pandas, a hug can go a long way. Photo by Mehgan Murphy, courtesy of the National Zoo

Giant pandas, Juan Rodriguez: “That shot of Tian Tian and Mei Xiang is the initial stages of the mating season. It usually ends with them rolling around and then their uncoordinated mating attempt (LOL).”

Great cats, Craig Saffoe: “Big cats (and small ones too) will head-rub with each other.  To us it looks like “awwww, they’re in love,” in reality it is likely a way to express hormones as they have scent glands above their eyes.  Looks cute though.”

Otters, Devin Murphy, Zoo communications team: “Our otters are very playful and they do everything together. When they run around their habitat it looks like one giant moving ball of fur. You can also hear them vocalize if you listen closely.”

Red pandas, Stacey Tabellario: “Red panda breeding season in the northern hemisphere is right around Valentine’s day. In fact, in 2011 we saw breeding ON Valentine’s day that produced two female cubs who are now grown and living at other zoos.”

“During breeding season, we see an increase in play and hear a vocalization called twittering. These red panda wrestling matches and soft high pitched sounds are how the red pandas find each other and pair up for breeding.”


About Leah Binkovitz
Leah Binkovitz

Leah Binkovitz is a Stone & Holt Weeks Fellow at Washington Post and NPR. Previously, she was a contributing writer and editorial intern for the At the Smithsonian section of Smithsonian magazine.

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