I daresay there are many more fascinating revelations than that in the world of evolutionary biology, but that one really made an impression on me for some reason. All these years and I never knew a male bird had no penis.
Actually, male ostriches, ducks, and geese have penises, but those are the only species. I’ve repeated my new found biological knowledge to numerous adults in the last two weeks. Announcing the penis factoid really stops conversation at a family gathering, let me tell you. The room just kind of got real quiet and everyone sort of stared at me. Labor Day weekend picnic, a family scene, picture a teenage daughter and her mother, in the hallway, alone: “Geez, Mom, we could have made it through this evening without you announcing that in front of Carl’s dad. We’re trying to make a good impression, you know. Birds have no penises, I’m so sure.”
Olivia Judson, in her marvelous book: Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation, entertains and informs in a truly delightful way. Judson created Dr. Tatiana, who has a sex column and receives letters from all species soliciting her advice. In this unique and creative way, Judson takes topics so far removed from the everyday humdrum bits of conversation and puts them right there on the coffee table, in plain sight, for the whole household to discuss. Buy the book and leave it in a prominent place in your living room. Watch how everyone who comes into the room will pick it up and begin to read it. Let them get through the first ten pages and then tell them it’s an evolutionary biology book. I doubt many folks outside the scientific community thought the topic would be fun to read about—until Judson came onto the scene.
I’ve never laughed so hard while learning so much.
Dear Dr. Tatiana,
I’m a marine iguana, and I’m appalled by the behavior of the young iguanas of today: I keep encountering groups of youths masturbating at me. It’s revolting. I’m sure they didn’t dare act this way in Darwin’s time. How can I make them stop?
Disgusted in the Galápagos
I get a lot of letters from young male marine iguanas, frustrated because the girls ignore them. But this is the first time I’ve heard complaints from the other side. Look at it from the guy’s point of view. Here he is, a tasteful shade of red, his spiky crest a full twenty centimeters from his crown to his tail—he’s ready to go, desperate to use one or the other of his penises. (Yes, like many reptiles, he has two, a left and right penis). But being young and therefore small, he doesn’t have much of a chance…
And there’s more, so much more. Judson backs up her quirky Dr. Tatiana’s facts with extensive chapter notes and bibliography detailing not only the voracity of the information included in each section but also providing further resources for the reader. Judson is an accomplished evolutionary biologist and award-winning journalist. Published in Nature, Science, and The Economist, she is presently a research fellow at Imperial College in London (and they’ve got to be awfully proud of her at Oxford, where she received her doctorate and at alma mater, Stanford, I tell you.)
The ability to write a book on evolutionary biology that is engaging, instructive and user-friendly needs to be applauded and celebrated. And—passed out to every high school biology class as required reading. I might have paid more attention to Franklin Blair, my tenth grade biology teacher, if he’d told us about the sex life of the fat tailed dwarf lemur, or if he’d just read the letter from Perplexed in Cloverhill:
Dear Dr. Tatiana,
I’m a queen bee, and I’m worried. All my lovers leave their genitals inside me and then drop dead. Is this normal?
I mean, what high school sophomore wouldn’t pay attention to that lecture?
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