Getting Started

Part of the Life at the Limits exhibition.

Many organisms can simply divide in two or make copies of themselves. But the majority of animal species, and most flowering plants, reproduce through sex. Generation after generation, parents pour their energy into finding partners to mate with, fertilizing eggs and—sometimes—supporting their young.

Finding A Mate

When a bowerbird bachelor is ready to mate, he builds a nest-like structure called a bower, which he decorates with flowers, shells, stones, and other eye-catching baubles to attract females. There are 20 bowerbird species, and 17 build mating bowers, each in a different style.

Bowerbirds take their name from the extravagantly decorated bowers they use to attract mates.
©AMNH/R. Mickens 

A Cloud of Kids

Corals are animals that begin life floating in the water, but then settle and live anchored to the sea floor. Adult corals can’t move in search of mates. Instead, like a well-conducted orchestra, they often spawn in unison, releasing billions of eggs and sperm on a single night. These cells unite and grow to form larvae—most of which become a meal for larger sea creatures. But with so many larvae in the same place at the same time, predators can’t eat them all. Some lucky larvae drift away to form new coral colonies, and expand the reef.

An outcrop of several species of corals.
Wikimedia/ Toby Hudson

 Fertilizing from Afar

The titan arum flower rarely blooms, but when it does, the sight—and smell—can be utterly breathtaking. Visitors to Life at the Limits will be able to check out a life-sized model of this tropical giant, though they’ll be spared its scent—a powerful perfume that resembles the stench of rotting flesh. To some insects, it’s a seductive scent, one that lures potential pollinators toward the female parts of the flower where they can pick up pollen and carry it off to fertilize other flowers.

A life-size model of a Titan Arum plant, notable for its large spadix with the surrounding spathe – a frilly leaf, colored red on the inside and green outside.
A Titan Arum plant preparing to Bloom at the US Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C.
Wikimedia/US Botanic Garden 

At Life at the Limits, visitors can get a look at a model coral reef and learn about many more amazing breeding habits found in nature.