Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation, The Definitive Guide to the Evolution of Sex
Dr. Ruth Meets David Attenborough
In honor of Valentines Day I thought I'd share with you one of my all time favorite books. It's called, Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation, The Definitive Guide to the Evolution of Sex by Olivia Judson. The reason I like Dr. Tatiana is because she's written a book that I would consider as being the love child of Dr. Ruth and David Attenborough. It has tongue in cheek humor about animals and their unique reproductive problems. As her website suggests, it's "..witty but rigorous."
From the lowly sponge louse to the mighty lion, no organism is too large or small. The books is written in sections that are organized around themes like, "A Sketch of the Battlefield," "Swords or Pistols, Rules of Engagement," and "How to Make Love To A Cannibal." Each chapter is filled with letters from organisms all needing help. I like this format because it makes for short sub-chapters and easy digestion of the dense material. The content is actually quite rich in biological facts, ecological musings, and material but done in such a way that you won't realize you've learned something until you're done reading. Judson does a great job making evolutionary biology and reproduction accessible, fun to read, and entertaining. It's strong enough that if I was teaching the topic I would assign it to my students as supplementary reading.
Here are some example of the sub-chapters/letters in her book:
Dear Dr. Tatiana,
My name's Twiggy, and I'm a stick insect. It's with great embarrassment that I write to you while copulating, but my mate and I have been copulating for ten weeks already. I'm bored out of my skull, yet he shows no sign of flagging. He says it's because he's madly in love with me, but I think he's just plain mad. How can I get him to quit?"
--Sick of Sex in India
Dear Dr. Tatiana,
My boyfriend is the handsomest golden potto I ever saw. He's got beautiful golden fur on his back, creamy white fur on his belly, he smells delicious, and he has ever such dainty hands and feet. There's just one thing. Please, Dr. Tatiana, why is his penis covered in enormous spines?
--Spooked in Gabon
Each sub-chapter delves into a funny Dr. Ruth-esque biological look at the question, with real answers, and real ecology. Whether it's the lowly fruit fly, Drosophila bifurca, that takes three weeks to make one sperm that has a tail 20x longer than its body, or the moorhen that is alarmed by the violent behavior of the girls of his species (see below), you're bound to have a good time reading the answers.
You can learn more on Olivia Judson's website, and purchase the book on Amazon ($10 new and $1 used). Regardless it's a fun book. Of course many of my friends are biologists, and after a beer or two we enjoyed reading sections of this aloud and hooting and laughing. It's a book for biologists and non-biologists alike. Add some spice to your Valentines. . . or any time of year!