A lively exploration of “the nitty-gritty of the diverse sex life of animals.”
Bondar—who is the lead presenter on Discovery World’s Brave New World with Stephen Hawking and whose Web series “Wild Sex” has attracted more than 50 million viewers—doesn't overlook the dark side of a fascinating subject that routinely includes fierce competition, cheating, and even rape. She divides her treatment into three major sections: the search for a mate, the sex act itself, and the various strategies for procreation and the raising of viable offspring. While pair-bonding is by no means uncommon in the animal kingdom, “when it comes to finding and having sex in the animal kingdom, it's rare when there isn't some form of trickery involved.” Before the advent of genetic testing, naturalists had falsely assumed that pair-bonding to raise offspring was associated with monogamy. Birds are notoriously sneaky polygamists, and Bondar reports on recent research showing how female mice can internally store the sperm of a number of mates before choosing which she will allow to fertilize her eggs. The author also describes the strange social combat between hermaphroditic earthworms, which engage in “penis-fencing” rituals, attempting “to be the first to stab the other with their razor-sharp penile members…the first successful stabber gets to play the male role.” This leads to Bondar’s provocative discussion of “the ubiquity of homosexual sex that occurs in nature.” The author asserts that homosexuality is simply not unnatural. Bisexuality among nonhumans does not imply homosexuality or same-sex preference, but it can diffuse physical tensions and provide a kind of social glue. As might be expected, she disabuses readers who fantasize about “parenting in the animal kingdom,” which is “a far cry from lullabies and snuggly blankets.” In fact, infanticide is not uncommon.
A fascinating peek into the intimate behavior of our animal cousins that provides new insight into the benefits of being human.