As a kid, I was always interested in the ways things worked. I was always wondering about the patterns of life and how they work together. One of the careers I pondered as a lad was being a marine biologist. Thanks to living near the ocean I always wanted to make a living out of being in one of my favorite environments. But, that’s not where I ended. I still have that inner scientist in me and even though I don’t work with animals, teenagers count in my book. These days I tend to focus more on psychology rather than biology, but I still have an interest in the field. So all of this is a preamble as to why I picked up a book about animal reproduction.
Let’s be honest, if you saw the title Sex on Earth on the “New Books” display at your library you’d probably be interested in it too. So I decided to see what this was all about. Plus I was trying to determine what pandas had to do with the sex. Then when I realized it was written by a zoologist and his year-long journey to discover some of the hidden sex lives of everyday animals I thought, why not? It didn’t dawn on me until half-way through the book before I realized that I’d have to blog about this. And then it made me wonder how many people would immediately begin to question where I landed on the perv-spectrum.
Sex on Earth by Jules Howard was actually quite far from a bawdy drawings and lurid descriptions of animal copulation. Instead, it actually revealed that we know very little about the animals we all assume we know. And yes, he does address animal sex. But using humor (high brow enough not to stoop to Jr. High levels) he’s able to take a scientific subject and make it palatable for the masses. In another scientist’s hands this would’ve been a cure for insomnia.
Instead, what Howard achieves is challenging the reader to reexamine our relationship to the creatures we live with everyday. The number one concern for most animals is survival. The second concern is survival of the species. Since we are not limited to these concerns, we tend to project our higher thinking onto to our animal neighbors. For example, who doesn’t like feeding ducks? Who doesn’t think ducklings are cute? But would you look at mallards the same way if you knew that during the mating season, gangs of mallards will sometimes forcefully copulate, in aggressive groups, with females which may end up in drowning or injury for the she-duck? Or that pandas aren’t as bad at sex as we tend to give them credit for. It’s that when placed in artificial settings such as zoos, it kills the mood, so to speak. Clearly they’ve survived for millennia, so they must know something about how to procreate.
These are the sorts of questions that Howard answers in his journey to discover the intimate side of animal. It’s surprising how much we don’t notice about animals, but that in knowing may alter our perceptions of them. And also, he addresses why dogs will hump random objects. Because you know we all wonder why when we see it happen.