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FUR REAL: Felix panthera is noble, but her romantic habits are not to be emulated.

Tips From Tigers

Lessons on love from the animal kingdom

By Traci Hukill

HUMANS having made such a mess of things, it's natural to suspect animals know something we don't about almost everything. So in honor of the cosmic alignment that has the Year of the Tiger beginning on Valentine's Day, we turned to the animal kingdom to see what wisdom we might glean from the swimming- flapping-prowling set on the subject of love.

As it turns out, not much. The "tigers" of the kingdom animalia are either thuggish brutes or unprincipled weasels in the sack (or on the sac, as it were). But study of their mating habits did yield some useful examples of what not to do when pursuing a human mate:

DO NOT make sweet love in the springtime in the middle of a mountain biking trail at Wilder Ranch. The endangered Ohlone tiger beetle has tried, and it doesn't work out well. From as early as January through late spring, this fierce little predator mates and lays its eggs in open spaces amid the grasslands in five Santa Cruz County locations. That means trails, and trails mean bikes, and bikes mean certain death when you're a centimeter long.

DO NOT underestimate the powers of an androgynous rival. According to National Geographic, male tiger salamanders sometimes impersonate females in order to sneak in and lay their sperm sacs on top of another male's. Then, in an impetuous fit of amphibious passion, the female tiger salamander slowly, very slowly, crawls over the spermatophore and picks it up, fertilizing her eggs in the process. Steamy stuff leading to heights of bliss that may be experienced only once in a lifetime: tiger salamanders have just one chance in two of mating more than once. Ever.

DO NOT, like the tiger shark, play too rough. To quote Wikipedia, the process of inserting a clasper into a female's cloaca can be violent. "The male uses its teeth to hold the female still during the procedure, often causing the female considerable discomfort." We trust no further comment is necessary.

DO NOT, like the tiger, engage in frequent noisy copulation over a period of several days unless, like the tiger, you're in a relatively secluded location. Multiple daily unions with someone you just met yesterday are your business; decibel levels become your neighbors'.

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