Chocolates, flowers, jewellery. These are the stereotypical Valentine’s Day gifts given by humans. But whether you make a scrapbook, offer a coupon for a massage, or cook a fancy dinner, we all know the endgame is the same: to make your partner feel nice and reinforce the pair bond.

Ha ha, no, I’m kidding. The end game is sex. It’s always sex.

And it’s the same story for our cousins across the animal kingdom. Sex is the name of the game. Everything else is prelude. Yeah, eat this bunny, drink from this stream, whatever, whatever, gotta find another member of my species so I can pass on the DNA burning a hole in my … pocket. 

But did you know that many animals also give goodies as a way to get some? Biologists call them 'nuptial gifts'. So in honour of Valentine’s Day, let’s take a look at some of nature’s smoothest playas.  

Sushi is the way to many a girl’s heart, but none get it fresher than the kingfisher. The male spends all day catching minnows, bashing their brains against a branch and then offering them to the female. When she finally accepts a morsel, it’s the equivalent of going steady. 

One spider, Pisaura mirabilis, specialises in takeout, or juicy bugs gussied up in silk. But because the female must first unwrap the gift, some spideys have learned that they can get away with gifting garbage like plant husks and old ant skeletons – and mate with the female before she realizes the ruse. However, a study found that crappy gifts do come back to bite you. Spiders that offered better presents got more time in the sack. Oh, and dudes that show up with nothing at all experience what researchers referred to as 'reduced mating success'. 

Another bird, the shrike, takes the meal method even further. This little raptor hunts lizards, mice, insects and other prey, and then impales them on thorn bushes. The skewering not only helps the bird to pick at its prey without letting it fall to the ground, but it serves as a sort of larder system. 

shrike larder_2017_02_14.jpg
A shrike's larder. On the menu: frogs' legs. Image: coniferconifer/Flickr

When mating season rolls around, the female stops by to inspect the male’s wares, like she’s browsing sausages in a butcher shop. A bush full of lizard kebabs signals that the male is an able hunter worthy of her nest.  

Insects are also famous for providing their mates with nourishment, but their gifts are a little more, um, 'homemade'. Put away the macaroni and glitter, we’re talking about bodily secretions!

Fireflies are some of the many species that produce spermatophores, or large packets of protein and sperm. Because female fireflies don’t eat as adults, these packets provide a handy double whammy of DNA and nutrition.

However, delivering the spermatophore comes at great peril to the males. Lurking in the dark is another species, the firefly femme fatale. This firefly knows how to mimic the flashes of other species in order to lure in unsuspecting Romeos. If the male has the misfortune to land on the imposter’s leaf, she will devour him – and that’s no sexy euphemism.

When fire-coloured beetles (Neopyrochroa flabellata) start making out, the male coughs up a 'cephalic secretion' for the female to sample. The male uses this vomity liquid to prove to the lucky lady that he’s packing heat – namely cantharidin, a powerful poison and the active ingredient in Spanish Fly. If the female lets him round the beetle bases, he’ll 'gift' her ovaries with enough of the stuff to coat their eggs. The poison then protects the kiddos from harvester ants and other predators. 

Poison, prey, pieces of themselves … it costs males a lot of time and energy to woo the females of their eye. But hey, the pursuit is all part of the fun, right?

Unless, of course, that pursuit involves luring your paramour-to-be into the middle of the woods so you can show her your crazy elaborate sex shrine.

The satin bowerbird and his love shrine. Image: Leo, Flickr

Seriously, am I the only one who thinks bowerbirds are just a little creepy? All those meticulously arranged sticks, the patios made out of bleached bones?

At best, I think you could say Mr Bowerbird is coming on a little strong. At worst, he’s built the animal equivalent of Carcosa.