Penguins with their darling little tuxedo-like feathers may steal the show in the CGI dance movie Happy Feet II — but there are animals out there that put on way better displays than a little tap dance.
Find out about the animals that strut their stuff better than a few ice-hopping leopard seal snacks.
Top image by Szatmar666 on Flickr.
10. The Moonwalking Manakin Bird
This one is so very worth a watch. The Manakin bird ranges from Mexico to Brazil to the Caribbean, so clearly it is one hell of a breeder. Its extraordinary range is well earned with one of the most incredible sexual displays ever seen. Not only does it dance the way Michael Jackson did in the eighties, it dresses like him, too. Set the above video to 'Blame it on the Boogie,' and I'm pretty sure that cats would try to mate with that bird. Which would also be an interesting video.
9. The Elephants that Inspired a Ballet
Penguins might dance, but elephants, real elephants, were the inspiration for three greats, the revolutionary composer Igor Stravinsky and the legendary dance choreographer George Balanchine. They came up with a dance that was actually performed by the Ringling Brother's troupe of elephants. Fifty elephants performed this number, which was composed after a brief conversation between the two collaborators, which goes as follows:
Balanchine: "I wonder if you'd like to do a little ballet with me."
Stravinsky: "For whom?"
Balanchine: "For some elephants."
Stravinsky: "How old?"
Balanchine: "Very young."
Stravinsky: "All right. If they are very young elephants, I will do it."
8. Dolphins are Evil Dancers
Look, objectively speaking, dolphins suck. They run in pervy packs that kidnap females and sometimes kill porpoises for fun and then play with the bodies. But no one can argue that they don't put on a show while they do it. Even CGI penguins need a floor to dance on. Dolphins tailwalk, they leap in spins out of the water, they loop-de-loop underwater, they exhale bubble curtains to add props to the stage. And sure, scientists think that the behavior is mostly them trying to forcibly remove troublesome remoras, or corral fish with bubbles - making the whole production just killing with style - but no one can deny that they do have style.
7. The Sacculina and the Crab Came Up With the Plot to Black Swan
Imagine how Black Swan would have turned out if Mila Kunis' character actually did all the things that Natalie Portman's character imagined that she did. This parasite drifts through the oceans, and then latches on and starts growing inside its crabby host. It alters the crab's hormone and physical appearance, forcing male crabs to simulate some female characteristics. Why? Because it needs to hijack the crab's sexuality and take over its life. It starves the crab, scars it, and forces it to mate with other infected crabs - and then to top it all off, it makes the crab perform a humiliating female mating dance in order to entice the other parasite-infected crabs. The only way to be free of the parasite? Death. But not until after one hell of a dance.
6. Rattlesnakes Make Hate Look Like Love
Oh the tender love dance of the diamondback rattlesnake! When these snakes meet the love of their lives, they entwine their sinewy necks and lean against each other. Like this they sway one way or another, occasionally for long stretches of time, proving that there really is romance in the animal world. If the female doesn't care for the male's skills, why, she goes on her way to find a more compatible dancer. At least, that's what was thought. Then someone checked under the hood (Or whatever. I don't really know what you 'check under' in snakes to find out what their sex is.) and realized that both snakes were male. They weren't looking at love, they were looking at a fight, and the 'female' didn't wander off after not being impressed with the male's skill, the second snake was driven off after being beaten up by the other male. See what Hollywood does to our perception of romance?
5. The Jumping Spider: What Two Legs Can Do, Eight Legs Can Do Scarier
Spiders are horrible things. I prefer even dolphins to these guys. But you have to respect talent. The Jumping Spider puts on elaborate dances for its mate, but recently scientists found that the dance was the least of it. The spider uses its legs to clap, tap, and hum as a way to entertain its new loved one. The vibrations are almost impossible to detect for humans, but female spiders hear them through their slit sensilla - which has to be the creepiest sounding organ ever. Each subspecies of jumping spider dances and taps out a different tune. And the female better like it. Those jumping spiders unfortunate enough to make the acquaintance of scientists often had their various sound-making apparatuses 'modified.' This literally changed their tune, and made the females they performed for less likely to mate with them and more likely to eat them.
4. The Whooping Crane Display is Where Dance Meets Assault
The Whooping Crane is an endangered bird whose display inspired Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, a magical-realism novel that became a surrealist fantasy movie starring a very young Uma Thurman and Keanu Reeves. That movie? Is still better than seeing the dance of the Whooping Crane. First the cranes spin around showing its neck. Then it leaps into the air and kicks out its legs in what has to be a terrifying way for the poor bird it's trying to woo. As you can see, one is totally backed into a corner, probably awaiting death, but the first crane decides to spin again, instead of finishing it off. Incidentally, Uma Thurman does an imitation of this dance in a makeshift crane costume in the movie.
3. Parrots Dance Like Humans
Yes, parrots dance the way most people do; badly. Statistical analysis shows that parrots drift in and out of the rhythm of the song when they're dancing along to it. Believe it or not, that's impressive. While plenty of animals move their bodies around in vaguely amusing ways for no readily apparent reason, that's not dancing to a beat. Cats, dogs, and horses don't dance when they hear music. They dance when they see people moving, or when people move objects rhythmically in front of them. This isn't really a dance anymore than the back and forth motion of people following the ball at a tennis match is a dance. Parrots, on the other hand, feel the beat and want to dance to it. Not even chimpanzees do the same. Research on this lead scientists to believe that the part of the brain wired for speech and verbal communication is partially responsible for dancing.
2. Bees Stage Hive-wide Dance Battles
I can not even imagine what it would be like to have to dance, or to correctly interpret dance, in order to get food. I can only think that I'd either starve or be so pitiable that others would feed me out of charity. Bees aren't big on charity, and so they have to be good dancers. When one finds a source of nectar, it comes back to the hive and does a little dance in order to communicate the food's location to the other bees. But when its time to find a new hive, bees step it up a notch and actually have dance battles. The ones that find really good sites will not only dance, but sing in order to distract the other dancing bees, and knock into other bees mosh-pit-style to throw them off. The scout that danced longest communicated to the rest of the hive that it had the best site.
1. Cuttlefish are a Moving Rave
There are a lot of dancers out there in the animal kingdom. There are even some who supply their own props and sound effects. But how many can give their subjects a light show as well as everything else? The cuttlefish have eight arms and two tentacles to wave around attractively and awesome 'W'-shaped pupils that you know Bowie would have gone for in the seventies. Most importantly, though, they have the ability to adjust their color and reflectivity to emit a strobe-like light that goes the entire length of their bodies. When they want to make an impression, they extend their arms and go into a display that puts every light-up dance floor in the seventies and smoky laser display in the nineties to shame. They pair the frenetic lighting with a subtle, flowing flutter of their bodies. They can even change costumes instantly by altering the texture of their skin.
What's more, they do this dance for two reasons; to mate and to confuse their prey. Sex and death, and the two paired together, are the immortal subjects of art. Making them literal in this beautiful dance adds the frisson of danger that any dance critic would find delectable.