The Science Behind Mating
In the Animal Kingdom
One could be excused for thinking that this might be just another coyly written come-on sex titillate book. The words "Wild Sex" on the spine are in 45 point type. The title page shows the same thing, albeit even bigger. The forty chapters have titles like "I'll have what she's having," "Cannibalistic females and the males that love them," "Fifty shades of BDSM in the animal kingdom," and "Ejaculate!"
The first clue of the difference here lies in the "Forward," which sets out to define sex. Well, I dunno, how do you define sex? Me? I could never figure it out - - - although I did learn early on it just wasn't about putting something in here, not over there . . . or even back there.
At the beginning, Bondar makes some key points. That, for instance, there are "expensive sexual cells" - - - the ovum, the eggs. Those don't just turn up every day. For some animals, they only put in an appearance every couple of years. Then there's the matter of the relatively profligate ejaculate: for humans, on average, 180,000,000 sperms. Each shot, a hundred eighty million little wriggly worms, looking for a place to stick in their little gooey heads. Zygote!
Next point. That human sex - - - as opposed to certain creatures like Japanese macaques, snake-necked turtles, or spiny water fleas - - - is relatively boring, done with "relative comfort" with an average time-lapse of ten minutes.
Compare this to a male that affixes his genitals to those of his female partner for days on end, requiring her to drag him around like some kind of deadweight sex toy.Or the female orb weavers, who secrete superglue that entraps males. It's like those roach motels: you check in and you can't check out. Which gives her ample chance to have him for her Sunday brunch. He thought he was getting a night in the sack and he turns out to be her Eggs Benedict.
"Sit back and get ready for titillating, exhilarating, horrifying, disgusting, alluring and wonderful world that is The Nature of Sex," Bondar writes, and she ain't kidding.
This is serious business, and its jam-packed with so many bugs and birds and bats and beasts that you'll be quite worn out by the time you make it to the end. In one chapter alone, she takes a serious look at the sex lives of poison frogs, field crickets, bowerbirds, Chichlid fish, Topi antelopes, peacocks, Gelanda baboons, blister beetles, solitary bees, bolas spiders, katydids, and fireflies. We met house crickets, macaques, iguanas, prairie dogs, bean weevils, pigmy squid, and earwigs. Some shots convince us that if they give us a chance to come back in the next life as bean weevil or pigmy squid (or a dung beetle), we'll have to beg off, opting to return as an elephant instead [see below.]
Outside of pure critters, we meet flowers that appear so much like beetles that the amorous males end up humping some dumb petunia, wasting their seed . . . which the plant, it turns out, needed in order to survive.
Then, in a chapter on interspecies rape, it seems that there are male fur seals in Antarctica which weigh over 100 kgs. When they get horny, and can't find an appropriate honey-pot, they somehow mount an adult king penguin - - - 20 kg. max - - - won't let him free for the hour that it needs to satisfy the seals' prurient interests, suffocating these poor bastards with just too much passion. Bondar reports, "The penguin was totally subdued after the attack but appeared to be otherwise physically unscathed."
In "Fifty Shades of BDSM in the Animal Kingdom," we come across earthworms that use a set of 40 - 44 compulatory spines or setae that pierce their partner's skin during copulation.
"I'm sorry darling. Did I hurt you? I've always been told that I have this big . . ."
"You dummy, its not that: it's your goddamn spines. Just keep them to yourself, you big galoot!"It may be fun reading but does leave one somewhat wasted after a full day of learning about the passion-pots of, for example, goldeneye ducks, flatworms, Australian red backs, and mochokid catfishes. This last lives in Lake Tanganyika, and, as soon as its eggs are fertilized, the female scoops them up and broods them in her mouth.
They remain in this safe environment until the yolks have been fully absorbed. Once out of their yolk-based food, tiny hatchlings leave the mother's mouth to forage, but they return for refuge . . .
There she is, waggling her fins at you, wanting to make it clear that rather than conversing with you, spewing several dozen of her babies in your face, she'll just maintain radio silence for now.
I found it awfully hard to stop reading Wild Sex, especially when we get into such vexing issues as infanticide, siblicide, and cannibalism. All of these, the author claims, can have "a direct nutritional benefit." Your Sweetie Pot Pie.
In other words, praying mantids eat their new lovers not because he didn't know how to bring her off, but because she's hungry and this guy just happened to be there, standing around with a stupid smile on his face . . . and she was just starving.
Some of the stories Bondar tells make us want to just get up and go to check it out. Like the red-sided garter snakes of central Canada. They hibernate all winter, but when they wake up, "they engage in massive amounts of sex in extremely large groups." We try to imagine garter snakes writhing and humping and making excited little snake cries of joy, are ready to call up the Manitoba tourist board and find out if the have a special Orgy Package for those of us who've never seen thousands of garter snakes in ecstasy in Medicine Hat or wherever it is.Other things you will learn here:
Me? I would worry that if the word got around that I was eating my mates, I'd think the number of potential partners would dry up in a trice. Not so, says the author. It has to do with the odds.
- It is impossible to rape a female elephant. Why? She has a penis-clitoris, and if she doesn't retract it completely, sex is impossible. Furthermore, the whole operation is fairly complicated: males, 10,000+ pounds; females, 6,000-7,000 pounds; bodies not designed ideally for union (do elephants have knees?) Worse, maximum time of penetration, jiggle, and climax: ten minutes. If I were Dumbo's mother, I think I would complain of a headache tonight. And every night thereafter.
- Take your average sea slug. I took one once, in a Korean restaurant. It was awful. Tasted like it looked, with a bunch of sand thrown in for good measure. But speaking of "not tonight dear" - - - male sea slugs stab females with their sharp needle-like penises "directly into their foreheads." That's where the neural ganglia rest, the place which is where they make their babies.
- Other sea slugs, like the nudibranch? Did Bondar just make that name up? Apparently not. The male nudibranch just dumps his goo on her backside, which - - - get this - - - has a chemical in it that burns through her skin to get directly to the egg. This is called "histolysis." Whatever they call it, let's put this in the Out to Lunch Box, OK?"
- African bat bugs, anyone? The male and the female both have "paragenitalia." Males can become crazed, end up stabbing all the other bat bugs and anything else in the neighborhood, male and female alike. And these stabs, according to the author, can do a fair amount of damage to all and sundry.
- It's even worse for frogs. It's known as "explosive breeding." Short season, too many males, too few females. Since mating takes place in the water, "females end up being crushed or drowned by sex-crazed males."
Male frogs have also been known to mistakenly grasp dead females, salamanders, floating debris or even the hands of a human trying to observe the action.
"What happened to your hand, professor?"
"I was just trying to observe the mating of two Amazonian frogs and I got raped. My doctor insists the damage isn't infectious."
- "Let's begin with a little about the basics of eating one's mate," says Bondar, calmly. "Females have much to gain (and potentially much to lose) by being sexually cannibalistic. If she plays it right a female can enjoy the benefit of a male's genetic donation, his nutritional nuptial gift, and then, his entire body."
Take the funnel web spider. Scientists have found that if you are first in line, you have a 35% chance of being dessert after the main course. After that, it drops to about 5%.
Which brings up two questions. #1: Why does it drop so drastically? Because her little spider tum is already full up with her first mate. Next in line gets a free ride, so to speak. And: #2: Where in hell do scientists get the funding to study, and study deeply, the mating habits of the funnel web spider? I ask you.