The Definitive Guide to the Evolutionary Biology of Sex


What the Critics Say About Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation

Hartford Courant - William Hathaway

Sex counselor to the birds and the bees

Sex sells. Even, hopes author Olivia Judson, when performed by bush babies and beetles in the most bewildering and befuddling manners imaginable. Judson, in her book "Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice for All Creation," commits, in a most entertaining and enlightening way, the egregious scientific sin of anthropomorphism - humanizing events of nature.

And by writing as a sex counselor to nature's creatures, Judson reminds people with religious or political agendas to be cautious when drawing lessons from the plethora of reproductive strategies concocted by a very promiscuous Mother Nature.

This introduction to evolutionary biology, masquerading as a series of sex-advice columns for critters, does take on some common wisdom - primarily that, in nature, females are selective about finding mates, and males are indiscriminate philanderers.

Well, at least the book takes on the former perception.

The theory that because spreading sperm requires little investment by the male and that raising children is a huge investment for the female, females are naturally more selective and less promiscuous than males is a myth, she argues.

Females of most species actually do better by sleeping around, says Judson, er, Dr. Tatiana.

The more lovers, the more eggs sand lizards hatch. Rabbits and prairie dogs conceive more often the more mates they have.

Philandering females have triggered an interesting evolutionary arms (or, in many cases, genitalia) race between males that want to ensure their own genes are passed on to the next generation.

In fact, males have evolved numerous strategies to outdo competitors in the relentless sperm wars. The male stick insect's answer to philandering females is to mount his mate and not leave for 10 weeks.

In telling readers that male honeybees explode upon climax or that female moorhens will claw each other to death in order to mate with nice rotund males, Judson reminds us of the power of Darwin's second mechanism of evolution - sexual selection - to shape life. A peacock's elaborate tail is a real drag when fleeing a predator, but it makes perfect sense to have one if it helps attracts amorous peahens to have his children and pass on his genes.

Judson also explores one of biology's basic questions: Why, if sex is so messy and costly, don't organisms simply reproduce by cloning, as many single-cell organisms do?

Even if exploring these mysteries of life doesn't float your boat, you'll no doubt pick up interesting party patter.