for National Geographic News
Dear Dr. Tatiana,
I'm a peacock, but I have a lousy tail. It isn't very big and the eyespots are wonky. The hens don't even feign indifference; they don't look at me at all. Is there anything I can do to impress them?Invisible in Sri Lanka
Poor old "Invisible" has one of the most common problems of all, says Dr. Tatiana, a lonely hearts columnist for all species. All the girls want the rich handsome guy, not the poor ugly pimply one in the corner. Perhaps if he joined a gang, she advises, he might at least sneak in some mating opportunities on the sly.
"Perplexed in Cloverhill," a queen bee, writes that all her lovers explode when they climax during mating, leaving their genitals inside her. Should she be worried?
Dr. Tatiana allows that having your lovers explode and drop dead could be unnerving, but advises "Perplexed" to relax. The mutilated members are a male honeybee's version of a chastity belt, meant to deny mating opportunities to other males. As many as 25,000 males might be hoping to mate with her, and he's willing to give his life in an attempt to pass along his genes.
For all species, the bottom line to being an evolutionary success story is making lots of babies that survive to become adults, which in turn reproduce.
Olivia Judson, an evolutionary biologist at Imperial College in London, details the many ways in which this can be accomplished in her book Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation (Metropolitan Books, 2002).
Judson, in the guise of her alter ego, Dr. Tatiana, has done the impossible: She's written a deeply researched science book on an enormously important topicthe evolutionary biology of sexthat makes you laugh out loud. Frequently.
Oops, I Swallowed My Husband
A green spoon worm, distressed because she accidentally inhaled her husband, is another fan looking for advice.
Once again, Dr. Tatiana is able to allay her writer's fears: He wanted to be snuffled and he's not coming back, she says. Her hubby is now resting comfortably inside her, in a special chamber called the androeciumliterally, the "small man room." There he will spend the rest of his life fertilizing passing eggs.
"It's amazing how diverse nature is, and the diversity of behavior that's evolved," Judson says in a phone interview. "You'll hear it time and again, at dinner parties and such, that something is or isn't natural. You'd be surprised."
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