Attenborough’s Oxford: Fresherus fresherus

Student Life

A wet, slimy substance covers the walls and a thick mist hovers in the air indicating the presence of a truly extraordinary species. This is the byproduct of the exuberant mating displays of fresherus fresherus, creatures that gather in their hundreds each evening in the dark cavernous spaces around the city to find mates. What we are witnessing here is the first time the creatures have congregated since returning from their December hibernation period.

Fresherus fresherus have only six or seven short months left until they metamorphose into secondus burdenedi, a creature with far greater responsibility. In order to make the most of their remaining time as a juvenile, individuals adapt their appearance for every new gathering in the hope of maximising their chance of mating success. Only the most vibrant and unique attempts are likely to catch the attention of the opposite sex. Some males may even attempt to make themselves look like females, in order to avoid competition from other males, and may surreptitiously display to the females in this disguise.

The mating display itself consists of a series of erratic and jerky head, shoulder and hip movements often accompanied by the waving of the arms. The display is punctuated by a specific repeated phenomenon known as ‘getting low’ which involves the individual suddenly dropping to their haunches, gyrating and thrusting with their hips and arms. The pulsating of the female’s posterior towards the male will often be used to show the male he has succeeded in securing her favour, and the couple may move to one of the darker corners of the cavern floor to carry out one of their many elusive mating practices, which are rumoured to involve digits. Males who have recently completed this ritual will often force their freshly scented fingers under the noses of other members of the group in order to prove their worth.

Meanwhile the remaining males and females engage in a curious practice in order to compete for remaining mates. Within each cavern is a reserve of an incapacitating substance which is consumed by individuals at regular intervals, often in copious amounts. The substance can cause their vision to be blurred, their movements to become uncontrolled and the involuntary production of vomit. Those individuals who are capable of withstanding the former effects for the longest are the most likely to find mates. If the latter occurs, the individual will almost certainly not be accepted by a member of the opposite sex although a lucky few succeed despite such secretements… The highly territorial bouncerus maximus may be alerted to their inebriation and chase them out of the cavern, where they are exposed to the night time predators of the city. A fresherus fresherus in this situation have little choice but to climb onto the back of the busii safetyus, an animal which, for unknown reasons, patrols the city’s thoroughfares transporting incapacitated creatures back to their dens in return for a single gold coin.

At around two o clock in the morning, the luminescence of the bouncerus maximus, which it uses to hunt, floods the cavern. Fresherus fresherus have little choice but to make a hasty retreat out into the city. Successful mating pairs will return to their nests. Unsuccessful individuals, having exhausted their energies for no reward, will return to the cavern the next evening, sporting a new vibrant disguise and attempt to find a mate. For now, they retreat into the night to find food to recover.


PHOTO/Sean McGrath

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