Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation

Listening to:

transitions by Chris Jarrett, from the album Fire.

Just read:

Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation, by Olivia Judson.

This is an entertaining book, full of little essays about the sex lives of various species. The basic conceit is that every essay begins with an “agony aunt” style question. For example:

Dear Dr. Tatiana,

I’m a true armyworm moth, and I’ve gone deaf in one ear. I’ve read this is from having too much sex. Trouble is, I’m (sob) still a virgin. So what’s happening to me?—Piqued in Darien

This particular question leads into a very nice discussion of why most species maintain a 50-50 male-female sex ratio, but why in certain (often parasitical) circumstances the ratio may dramatically favour females, at least initially. Even cooler, certain parasites can control the sexes of their offspring to suit the specific circumstances they’re in (whether or not they’re competing with other individuals, basically).

Given introductions such as the above, there’s naturally a fair bit of humour in the presentation of this material, but it’s also done very carefully. Olivia Judson is a scientist (multiple Nature papers according to the page about her on Wikipedia; cor!) as well as a science writer, and she clearly wants to makes sure that what she writes is properly supported by the evidence.

Definitely a recommended read. The bitty structure means there’s no grand thesis, but it still conveys a lot of absolutely fascinating material.