Nature's Nether Regions: What the Sex Lives of Bugs, Birds, and Beasts Tell Us About Evolution, Biodivers ity, and Ourselves Kindle Edition
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- Length: 244 pages
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
- Page Flip: Enabled
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About the Author
--Tess Taylor, Barnes and Nobles Review
“From the very first page, Menno Schilthuizen makes us both laugh and think about the bewildering genital variation in the animal kingdom. We laugh at the outrageous shapes these organs take, and think about the central issue of this book: how genital anatomy advances male and female procreation. An exhilarating and most informative read!”
—Frans de Waal, author of The Bonobo and the Atheist
“A remarkable book... succeeds in finding exactly the right tone…. Schilthuizen’s entertaining work reminds us not to take ‘the mechanics of sexual intercourse’ for granted.'"
“A provocative voyage on the ‘vast ocean of sexual function beyond the quiet backwater that we humans find ourselves in.’”
“The science of genitals is a relatively new field for biologists, who have long overlooked the evolutionary importance of species' private parts. Biologist Schilthuizen balances the silly and the serious to describe researchers' latest efforts to understand how ‘evolution has graced the animal kingdom with such a bewildering diversity of reproductive organs.’ Schilthuizen tours some of nature's weirdest inventions, such as the chicken flea penis, which is ‘actually a profusion of plates, combs, springs, and levers’ and looks like ‘an exploded grandfather clock.’”
“Rather than furiously flipping through a stack of increasingly obscure science journals, those interested now have an easily digestible text to work with, the charmingly titled, Nature’s Nether Regions, by Dutch evolutionary biologist Menno Schilthuizen. Menno’s book is a deep dive into the science of genitals, one that comes interspersed with a selection of the finest, and most scientifically-accurate, sex jokes.”
—Lex Berko, Vice’s Motherboard
“A closer look between the legs (or, in the case of the Australian velvet worm, on the head) to explore what the sex lives of various creatures can teach us about reproduction, diversity and human sexuality…. I actually missed my stop on the train this morning because I was engrossed in the chapter about duck sex.”
—Lindsay Abrams, Salon --This text refers to the paperback edition.
- Publication Date : May 1, 2014
- Print Length : 244 pages
- File Size : 7141 KB
- Publisher : Penguin Books (May 1, 2014)
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Language: : English
- ASIN : B00G3L1EF0
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Enhanced Typesetting : Enabled
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #877,819 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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I thought that this was a great book for a number of reasons:
~The author's writing style is really entertaining. He makes a lot of references and uses colloquial terms that are familiar to the reader and even sticks in some funny turn of phrases.
~The book has a lot of novel information. The co-evolution of genitalia in the fight for dominance over reproduction is quite entertaining and the 'tricks' and strategies animals use to get the upper hand is surprising at times. I certainly learned a lot.
~Schilthuizen has a lot of drawings to elucidate his writing on specific mating strategies and the odd array of shapes of various genitalia and reproductive tracts of organisms.
I hope for the author's sake that the title of the book doesn't keep the more modest readers from learning about this fascinating topic which is broader than just sex organs. (I do love the cover photo).
I have no real complaints about the book. I suppose sometimes it was difficult to read about the crueler or grosser aspects of nature and the creepy crawlies that dominate our biosphere in many ways. But despite the occasional discomfort in reading the material, if you have an interest in evolution, biology, or ecology it would be a mistake to pass up this book.
The author depicts a wide variety of animal behavior vis a vis mating in all its wonder (sometimes horror) and he does it with gusto both in language and visuals. I think he had a lot of fun writing a good solid book of popular science. As an adult human male I often read about practices in the non-human world that I would be more than loath to endure but alas I am not a Mallard for instance. Likewise I am not a female of any species and am especially glad to not be one from some of the species that Schilthuizen describes. As the reader finishes the book and maybe glimpses at the photograph of the author on the rear flap they might speculate about the grin on his face.
He begins the book by clarifying the distinction between the primary natural selection benefits of sexual organs. How they work on the practical level to help all species propagate. He is less concerned about how they survive-only how they got here. Secondary variables in maintaining gene flow through heredity of course are the aspects of mate selection. Sexual selection is an important variable in the ability to procreate but it is only marginal to the author’s topic.
He counters Tinbergen’s four questions with four of his own when contemplating how species proliferate and survive generation after generation. They are 1. Variation-does the species gene pool vary enough to keep it healthy? 2. Heritable-is the influence of any change one that can be given to the next generation? 3. Given the hardships of life in the wild it is a given that more offspring are born than can survive 4. Death is not random-(of course most of the time it is) and in the case of many species, the act of procreation is the final act.
Much of the book is about sexual competition. Creating eggs is at a high cost physically. Lots of energy goes into making relatively few eggs. In many cases it also means that the female has to ensure some assistance in rearing offspring. She needs to make a lot of decisions about the best way to have the offspring thrive and the decisions are based on many criteria.
On the other hand sperm is pretty easy to produce. Males simply have to spread it around as much as they can in order to further their genetic production. They have to either prove or imply that they will be the parent of a survivable offspring. This is where the secondary sexual selection enters. They sing better, ram horns better or simply intimidate other males away from possible mating opportunities.
Sexual competition has the Red Queen affect both in primary genitalia competition and in the secondary aspects. The female needs to bear healthy offspring that will generate her genes sometimes at a cost to males and likewise so does he. As one defense of offense changes so does the opposite sex’s so that the “faster you run the faster they catch up with you”. Sexual competition is one game that is being tracked for its evolution by many researchers.
So the author presents concepts such as “flowback” where the female ejects the unwanted sperm of her most recent encounter. There are vaginal plugs inserted by males to prevent the next guy from inserting his sperm. Oh it is a tumultuous world and we humans have soap operas (and real life) to remind us. The author describes how the non-human world have their soap operas as well. And it changes all the time. Females will develop the ability to “pop” the plug and males will develop methods to prevent flowback. That is the nature of sexual competition and evolution.
The author tells the story with something of a wink of his eye. He presents it well and the reader can learn a lot as well as store much reference information for further research. A glossary would have sharpened his message and those are found in a great many popular science books. I had to look up many words that he either failed to define or did so too briefly. That is a pretty minor criticism as the book was written to inform those eager to read current science about animal behavior.
On a side note, as mentioned in the title to the review, maintain situational awareness while reading the book. I was reading on a plane, and I flipped the page to find a diagram of the human female clitoris with some external anatomy. It was somewhat awkward when the woman in the seat next to me looked over before I could flip the page again.
Top reviews from other countries
In this book, Dutch genital evolution researcher Schilthuizen explores both the history and current status of genital research in the animal kingdom - everything from barnacles and slugs through to humans - and focuses on the evolutionary processes that have shaped them. He points out that genitalia, the proteins in semen, and mating behaviour, are probably the most rapidly evolving of all biological traits, and often used for species differentiation and taxonomy. His main focus is on the evolutionary balance between natural selection, sexual selection, male priorities and female priorities that shape species and species' behaviours. These can result, and have resulted, in genitalia that are corkscrew shaped, horned, spiky, have scoops, include pincers to attach to a partner, have evolved internal vibrators, and are up to 8 times the body length of the adult creature in question. They've also led to seminal fluids that manipulate the neurochemistry and physiology of a female recipient or congeal into plugs to prevent further mating, and female anatomy that can transport, expel, store, sort and prioritise 'better' sperm while mating with multiple partners.
Schilthuizen's main point seems to be that this 'evolutionary arms race' has been largely overlooked until recent decades, and may have a lot to tell us about evolution, sexual selection and, potentially, human behaviour and fertility issues. He makes a compelling case, exploring the diversity manifest in the animal kingdom while also bringing the topic regularly back from potentially prurient detail to what it teaches us about the animals in question and ourselves.
This book is entertainingly well written. Schilthuizen is, inevitably, well aware that his research is a topic for sniggers, blushes and lewd titters. He doesn't shy away from that, but makes a running joke of our cultural inhibitions about discussing such issues. He tells an interesting and coherent story, emphasising the work of his fellow researchers, and making the history and erudition of his account rich in quotations and references to the literature, as well as recounting his own experiences. I'd say that for anyone with an interest in basic science or nature, this is an interesting and entertaining book which I am happy to recommend.