Sam Venable 

Department of Irony

Everyone, everywhere, has a talent.

When I was in the fifth grade. I had a classmate who could transform a mundane bodily function into a work of art. 

He could spit like nobody you ever saw. 

Whenever a girl he admired was watching, he would part his lips and slam his tongue across the inside of his front teeth. Out squirted these little aquatic jets that arced toward their target (a tree or a rock, you understand—not the girl) with unerring accuracy. It was a marvel of hydrology and engineering the likes of which I have never seen duplicated, even in this era of chewing tobacco addiction.

 All us boys loved it. The girls screamed, “gross!” and ran to tell the teacher. 

I brought this up to illustrate the depths to which a young man will sink in order to impress his lady fair—even if it means a trip to the paddling table when recess is over. 

We now are nearing Valentine’s Day. Says so right here on my calendar. And you know what happens when a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of love.

 He goes bonkers. He talks like a fool and acts like a fool and generally is a fool. 

Fortunately, he is not alone. In fact, almost every species of animal on Earth engages in some form of courtship display this time of year.

 Some perform rituals not wholly unlike those of humans. Elephants face each other lovingly and tenderly intertwine their trunks. Some gulls and terns literally bill and coo.

 The tilapia, an African fish now available at many U.S. supermarket meat counters, takes it a bit further; mama and papa slap each other with their tails and quiver their bodies.

How many times have you seen an otherwise stumblebum boy knock ’em out on the dance floor when the ladies are around? The same thing happens with the male jumping spider. Let him spy a sweet young thing and he starts hoppin’ about like all eight feet were afire. He zigs and zags ’til he’s plumb worn out.

If the she-spider likes the show, she stays put and invites Twinkle Toes over for a nightcap. If not, she merely creeps away, leaving him to face the jeers of his buddies back at the bar.

How about a song? That’ll please her for sure. 

At least that’s what the whippoorwill seems to think. Those sharp whistles he uncorks on spring nights aren’t intended to rock you to sleep. Rather, it’s the bird’s way of attracting a mate. 

Put an amorous Will outside your window and you’ll start wondering if the Wilmas of the species can hear at all. One researcher counted 1,088 calls in succession, leading me to believe girls in that area were deaf. Or else this particular bird was as persistent as a summer cold.

Scent is another tactic. Just talk to the guy who has plunked down a buck-fifty for a bottle of Bay Rum. He splashes it on good and thick. Then he stands back and lets the gals rush him all at once. Or something like that.

But that’s what happens with the emperor moth. In this case, however, it’s the female wearing the smell-good.

She discharges scent from glands near the tip of her body, and the boys come flying. I don’t know if it smells like fried chicken or blackberry pie, but scientists say males will be attracted from as far as 1,000 yards away.

If all else fails, you can give her a gift. 

The European heron brings a stick to his intended. If she’s interested, she accepts and sends him out for another. And another. Before you know it, the poor boy has brought back enough for a nest. 

And then there’s the American kestrel. He tells the little lady to sit tight and he’ll go find her some food. This might go on for a week before the fool finally banishes her to the nest and goes out to pack his own belly.

It’s everywhere. No matter where you look in the animal kingdom, you’ll see outrageous displays of affection and courtship. 

Some critters make noise. Some fluff their feathers. Some twist their bodies into knots. All for a sign of approval from the opposite sex. 

I just wonder what have happened back in the fifth grade if the girls had reacted like female Galapagos marine iguanas. When a male iguana is hot on the trail of his sweetheart, he throws his head back and blows spray at her through his nostrils. She loves it. 

Even my fifth-grade buddy, talented as he was, never tried that one.

Sam Venable is an author, stand-up comedian, and humor columnist for the Knoxville (TN) News Sentinel. Contact him at .