Publishers Weekly - Publisher's WeeklyCoupling dramatic photographs with the insights of top scientists, this book portrays sex in the natural world as a kind of gorgeous warfare, hardly the cuddly bonding ritual that some humans wish it to be. "The recurring theme of this book is that the opportunities created by sex differ for males and females," writes Sparks, producer of the award-winning BBC Life on Earth series and author of 11 books. Sparks illustrates the tremendous differential with panoramic sweep and arresting detail. Sperm is virtually countless in males of every species while female eggs are comparatively precious and few, so males compete, often savagely, to inseminate as many females as possible. Females, meanwhile, go for quality, seeking "perhaps the most elegant dancer, the most accomplished hunter or simply the biggest and most belligerent male." In witty, literate language, Sparks describes the sometimes incredible complexity and risk involved in the apparently harmonious act of sexual intercourse. His description of the coupling of millipedes sounds like the docking of alien space craft. The shape of the male's organs is surreal, "designed to twist and turn like a trowel inside the female's vulva. What the male is doing is waging war on alien sperm!" A female elephant seal can die from the crushing weight of a male on her back, and those same bulls "can expect to breed for only a year or two before being beaten by younger and more virile males." Spark takes readers for an eye-opening walk on the wild side, ensuring that the mystery of sex will never seem tame again. Color photos throughout. (Mar.)
Library Journal - Library JournalIn this beautifully photographed book (companion to a forthcoming program on the Discovery Channel), BBC producer and natural history author Sparks focuses primarily on the tensions and conflicts inherent in reproduction for many species. Chapters cover "warrior and wimp" males, "choosy" females, "the sexual connection," and parenting. Some fascinating variations on the theme include lizards that reproduce asexually but still "mate" in order to stimulate egg production in each other; male octopi so tiny they were originally thought to be parasitic worms on the females; and jacanas, a bird species in which the males do the "mothering" while the females are aggressive and promiscuous. A concluding chapter on "why sex?" presents the theory that sexual recombination of genes enables organisms to change and adapt more quickly to injury by microbes and parasites. Of interest to both students and others concerned with animal behavior; recommended for both academic and public libraries.--Beth Clewis Crim, Prince William P.L., VA Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
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