Fish That Fake Orgasms: and Other Zoological Curiosities [NOOK Book]

Overview

“If you are interested in transvestite garter snakes, the speed-eating habits of the star-nosed mole, or how geckos behave in zero gravity, you will enjoy Fish That Fake Orgasms.” ---The Times (UK)Packed with fascinating, bizarre, amazing, and hilarious entries, Fish That Fake Orgasms takes you on a guided tour of the diverse natural life that surrounds us. It covers eating and drinking, playing and preying, carousing and canoodling---and much more:• Why do some Japanese quail prefer to mate with weaker males of the species?• What animal has a
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Fish That Fake Orgasms: and Other Zoological Curiosities

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Overview

“If you are interested in transvestite garter snakes, the speed-eating habits of the star-nosed mole, or how geckos behave in zero gravity, you will enjoy Fish That Fake Orgasms.” ---The Times (UK)Packed with fascinating, bizarre, amazing, and hilarious entries, Fish That Fake Orgasms takes you on a guided tour of the diverse natural life that surrounds us. It covers eating and drinking, playing and preying, carousing and canoodling---and much more:• Why do some Japanese quail prefer to mate with weaker males of the species?• What animal has a heart that glows green when it beats? • Of all the carnivores, which has the strongest bite?• What creature performs better sexually when there’s another male nearby?• What type of bird has a divorce rate of only 8 percent?• Which has a bigger brain: a lion in the wild or a lion in captivity?• What animal pretends it has food in order to lure females into its abode?Fish That Fake Orgasms is the first professionally researched miscellany of the animal kingdom. An entertaining and addictive collection, it will satisfy anyone entranced by the wondrous world of animals. And speaking of satisfaction, the female brown trout does, in fact, fake it. It’s a trick it uses to find the most potent mate!
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781429985949
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 12/10/2007
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 224
  • File size: 763 KB

Meet the Author


Matt Walker is one of the world’s leading science journalists. He is an editor at the BBC, shaping its natural history coverage online. He was previously a senior editor at New Scientist, a magazine with a global readership of over 750,000. He has lectured at New Scientist conferences, as well as at the Royal Institution of Great Britain.

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Read an Excerpt

Fish That Fake Orgasms

The mating game
 

 

BIRDS CAN ACT LIKE lovelorn teenagers. At around one year old, barnacle geese (Branta leucopsis) begin going on dates, sampling several potential mates by engaging in so-called 'trial liaisons', which may last from a few days to several weeks. They will keep dating until they settle on a final mate for life at around the age of two or three. Both males and females that find their final partner early in life also raise a family sooner than those that play the field.1
 

Animals look for compatible mates just as people do. Pinyon jays (Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus) that find a partner similar in weight, age and bill length produce more offspring, whereas similarly sized barnacle geese (Branta leucopsis) reproduce better than pairs compromising a large and small individual. Great tits (Parus major) look for partners that have a similar desire in exploring the environment. Two fast explorers, and two slow explorers, produce more offspring than a pair of birds comprising a slow and fast explorer, whereas willow ptarmigan (Lagopus lagopus) are more reproductively successful when they pair up with another bird of a similar social standing.2
 

Animals also divorce each other just as readily as people do. Oyster-catchers (Haematopus ostralegus) are a monogamous species where the same male and female birds come together each year to raise a chick. But each year, just under 8 per cent of oystercatcher couples split up. In the majority of these cases, the females instigate the divorce, deserting partners who have not been particularly successful at breeding in the past for a betterquality of life with another bird nearby. Some females walk out on males who routinely knock eggs off their cliff perches, or fail to bring home enough food. And while some divorcees remain on the shelf, most go on to have much greater reproductive success over their lifetime than they would have done had they remained in their dead-end relationship. Divorce rates in birds range from o per cent in the utterly faithful wandering albatross (Diomedea exulans) to 99 per cent in the rather more fickle greater flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber roseus).3
 

Around 3 per cent of all bird species practise polyandrous breeding, where three or more adults will live together in a nest and bring up young. Up to five adults have been known to share a nest this way. The practice is especially common in raptors such as eagles and falcons, and in over half such species, the nest is shared by unrelated birds.4
 

Male and female Eurasian oystercatchers (Haematopus ostralegus) particularly like to indulge in threesomes, but - like many three-way relationships - sometimes all the individuals get along, and sometimes they do not. When the birds, which are common on mud flats, form a threesome, it always comprises one male and two females. But the threesomes occur in two forms, aggressive and cooperative. In an aggressive threesome, each female will defend her own nest, while the male oystercatcher defends a territory that includes the nests of both females. The females lay eggs about two weeks apart, and proceed to attack each other frequently throughout the day. The male also has a favourite partner, contributing most of his parental care to eggs laid first by one mate, and often leaving the second nest unguarded. However, in a cooperative threesome, the two females share one nest, and both females will lay eggs together, laying each clutch about oneday apart. The females also attempt to mate with each other frequently during the day, only slightly less often than they do with the male. The females also sit together and preen their feathers together. What's more the male has no favourite, and all three birds defend the nest together.5
The blue-footed booby (Sula nebouxii), a sea bird that usually nests on cliffs and rocky outcrops, continually points its beak towards the sky as part of its courtship display. The behaviour is thought to have evolved from the same movements the bird uses when it intends to take to the sky.6
 

A female penduline tit (Remiz pendulinus) attempts to conceal her eggs from her mate until she has laid the entire brood. The reason for the deception is that the female wants to ensure all her eggs are in place before she promptly abandons them to be cared for by the unsuspecting male.7
 

For some animals, sex can literally be a life-changing experience. When a male seed beetle (Acanthoscelides obtectus) has sex with a female, it inseminates her with chemicals that either make herdie younger, or live longer. During mating, males of this species transfer different peptides and proteins to females. These can have beneficial effects, as some of the compounds appear to increase the number of eggs laid by a female, and females that have been mated tend to live longer than females that have not. They can also have a detrimental impact and be toxic to the female. However, males that tend to reproduce late on in life will inject females with more beneficial compounds, in essence extending her lifespan, than males that tend to reproduce early in life. By doing so, late-breeding males ensure that females will live longer, and hence be around to bear them more offspring, maximising the number of times their genes are passed down the generations.8
 

A similar thing also happens to bumblebees, except female bees (Bombus terrestris) that have been inseminated with sperm by multiple males die younger, being less likely to survive hibernation, than those that have successfully mated with only one male. It is not clear why, but it could be that multiple inseminations of sperm sap more energy from the queen bee, or that chemicals within the sperm of each male, which are designed to corrupt the sperm of a rival in the bee equivalent of a sperm war, may also physically harm the female.9
 

The most attractive male field crickets (Teleogryllus commodus) die young, the price they pay for putting so much effort into making chirping calls designed to attract potential mates.10
 

A male flour beetle (Tribolium castaneum) can mate and impregnate a female he has never met. No other animal is known to have sex by proxy in this way. Flour beetles lead promiscuous lives, and multiple males often mate with each female. The first male willmate and deposit sperm in the female, then a second male will arrive and use its spiny genitalia to scrape out his competitor's sperm, before mating itself.
But that does not mean he has won the competition. Much of the sperm of the first male survives this ordeal, and is carried unwittingly by the second male on its genitalia. If this second male mates again within a short period he can inadvertently inseminate a female with sperm that is not his own; and the first male gets to impregnate a female it has never met. One in eight females are fertilised by proxy in this way.11
 

Virgin male butterflies make better lovers than butterflies more experienced in the bedroom arts. Butterflies that copulate for the first time raise a greater number of young than those that have had multiple sexual partners, possibly because they haven't depleted their reserves of sperm.12
 

Male butterflies also use a series of anti-aphrodisiacs to ensure that a female they have mated with does not go on to have sex with another male. Males of the butterfly species Danaus gilippus cover females in a pheromone-laden dust that contains chemicals that both inhibit her ability to fly, and stick like glue to her antennae, making it more difficult for her to identify other potential male partners. Male Heliconius erato butterflies also transfer a pheromone to the female, which she then disseminates from special storage organs called 'stink clubs' making her highly distasteful to other males. A similar trick is also used by the green-veined white butterfly (Pieris napi) and its relative P. rapae.
 

Other males are more obliging. When male arctiid moths (Utetheisa ornatrix) mate they transfer chemical compounds to thefemale, which she bequeaths to her offspring, rendering them distasteful and thus protected against predators.13
 

More than 90 per cent of the sperm produced by male butterflies and moths is non-fertile. Male Lepidoptera produce two types of sperm: normal, fertilising 'eupyrene' sperm, and a much larger number of non-fertile, anucleate 'apyrene' sperm. It is not known exactly what function the non-fertile sperm serve. They might play a role in activating the fertile sperm, or help the active sperm transport themselves through a female's reproductive tract. Alternatively they might provide a source of nutrients either for the fertile sperm, the female or the developing zygotes produced after fertilisation. Most likely is that apyrene sperm play a role in sperm competition, either by displacing or inactivating rival males' sperm, or by remaining in the females' reproductive tract, delaying her ability to mate again.14
 

Females of many spider species, such as African golden orb web spiders (Nephila madagascariensis), have not one but two genital openings into which males deposit sperm. Not to be outdone, males of the species also have two sexual organs of their own, known as pedipalps, each of which can enter these openings. Unfortunately for the males, these pedipalps often break off while inside the female. The situation isn't good for females either, as this lopped-off sexual organ often prevents them mating later with other better-quality males.15
 

Being eaten by your mate appears to be a good reproductive strategy for golden orb weaving spiders of the species Nephila plumipes. Males that are eaten after copulating father more offspring than males that are left uneaten. It is likely that this is because females choose to eat only the best quality males.16
 

Some males of the related orb weaving spider (Nephila fenestrata) try to avoid being eaten by their mates, by approaching a female only once she has caught a fly and is busy with another meal.17
Another spider intentionally chews off one of its genital organs before mating, because they are simply too big and unwieldy. Male spiders within the genus Tidarren are just 1 per cent of the size of females, yet each of their pedipalp sexual organs makes up 10 per cent of the male spider's body weight. Before mating, males voluntarily remove one of these organs, as the sheer weight and size of their genitals makes running difficult. Males with just one pedipalp run 44 per cent faster and for 63 per cent longer than those with two. They are also capable of running three times as far, a trick that is believed to help the lovelorn male run rings around other males competing for the female's attention.18
 

Female St Andrew's cross spiders (Argiope keyserlingi) terminate copulation by detaching males from their genital openings, wrapping and then killing them.19
 

Male bruchid beetles (Callosobruchus maculates) have spines on the tip of their genital organ that are designed to damage a female's reproductive tract during copulation. It is thought that damaging the female this way helps to postpone her mating with a rival male, increasing the chances that the first male will father her young. Females have evolved a counter-adaptation, which involves kicking the male during copulation, a strategy that reduces the damage by shortening the duration of copulation.20
 

Sexual cannibalism is not only one-way traffic. Males of some species will also devour females. For instance, male amphipods (Gammarus pulex and G. duebeni celticus), a small water-dwelling crustacean, will cannibalise smaller females, especially just after the female has moulted its exoskeleton leaving it at its most vulnerable. A male paddle crab (Ovalipes catharus) will also eat its female mate during or after mating, again usually just after she has moulted and only has a soft shell. Presumably this happens when the male decides that the probability of producing offspring is quite small, and he has more to gain by eating the convenient meal of the female.21
 

Female brown trout (Salmo trutta) fake orgasms to encourage males to ejaculate prematurely. By doing so, they dupe their partner into thinking it has successfully mated, before the female fish moves on to find a better male with which to do the real thing.22
 

The two-spotted goby (Gobiusculus flavescens) has an unusual sex life, as during the early stages of the fishes' short breeding season, males will compete with each other for the attention of females, and try to court prospective mates. But as the breeding season progresses, the situation reverses and females begin to fight over males, and do all the chasing to get their man. The goby is thefirst vertebrate known to have such a fluid relationship between the sexes.23
 

Small male bluegill sunfish (Lepomis macrochirus) make up for their weedy size by producing super sperm. The sunfish have two mating strategies. Some males wait until they are seven years old before becoming territorial males that build nests and actively court females. Other smaller males try to mate at a younger age by sneaking up to females and copulating without their partner knowing. But these weedy, sneaky males have a trick up their sleeve that gives them a head start over their larger, more thuggish competitors: they produce physiologically superior sperm that swim faster.24
 

Male meadow voles (Microtus pennsylvanicus) inseminate females with more sperm when they smell another male competitor nearby. They do not increase the frequency of their ejaculates, but actually produce more sperm within each ejaculate, as a way to increase the chances that their sperm, rather than a rival's, will impregnate the female.25
 

Female chimps exhibit large pink swellings on their rear quarters to show they are receptive to mating, the size of which signals their reproductive quality. But these swellings also increase the operating depth of the vagina by up to 50 per cent. In response, male chimps have evolved longer penises to ensure they can deposit sperm closer to the cervix, and have a greater chance of impregnating the female.26
 

Some females prefer losers. Female Japanese quail (Coturnix japonica) mate with weaker males that habitually lose fights with competitors, rather than the more traditional strategy of matingwith the victor. It appears that the females prefer losers in order to avoid being harmed by more dominant aggressive males.27
 

Sometimes the least attractive girls get the most boys. Male Soay sheep (Ovis aries), which live feral on the island of St Kilda in Scotland, aggressively compete with each other for females. But instead of mating with as many females as possible the most dominant males preferentially select only the heaviest females which have the greatest chance of successfully giving birth to healthy lambs. That means that the lighter and hence less attractive females are mated by a series of less attractive males, and as a consequence the least appealing females actually mate with more male sheep than their better-looking rivals.28
 

Small can be beautiful. While most females prefer to mate with larger, stronger and therefore fitter males, females of the bat species Saccopteryx bilineata, known as sac-winged bats, prefer small males. These bats mate on the wing, so it is believed that smaller males can perform better aerial displays and are more able to copulate while flying.29
 

Male garter snakes have a tendency to become transvestites, or 'she-males', an odd strategy where young male snakes dress up as members of the opposite sex and attempt to mate with other males. The snakes do this by producing similar lipids on their skin to females. These lipids attract the attentions of other male snakes. All male garter snakes seem to go through this phase as they pass into adulthood, and the reason for becoming a transvestite appears to be twofold; the change appears to switch off the elaborate courtship behaviour males use to woo females, preventing the young snakes from expending too much energy on mating at a time when it is unlikely to be successful. By dressing up likea transvestite, young male snakes may also be gaining an advantage over their older male rivals. If an older snake is tricked into trying to mate with a cross-dresser, it has less chance of fathering young with a female.30
Giant cuttlefish (Sepia apama) usually live solitary lives lasting just one to two years. But every winter, hundreds of thousands of cuttlefish come together at Spencer Gulf off the coast of South Australia to take part in a huge sexual orgy. Up to II males show up for every female, and each uses a variety of tactics to impregnate a partner. Males will guard a female, try to sneak out from behind a hiding place such as a rock to copulate with another's mate, or most strangely, pretend to be another female to avoid being rumbled by the competition.31
 

It is amazing what a moth will do for sex. Both males and female moths of the species Spodoptera littoralis will normally take evasive action when they hear the echolocating sounds of an approaching hungry bat, a necessary tactic to avoid being eaten. But when a male smells the alluring pheromones of a female, he throws caution to the wind. The prospect of mating essentially causes the male to become deaf to danger and ignore the bat, so intent is he on copulating. The moths only live for two weeks, so it is likely that males weigh up the relative risks of becomingsomeone's dinner and decide that getting sex while they can and passing on their genes is more important.32
 

A low dose of radiation can affect the sex lives of earthworms. Some worms, such as the Japanese species Enchytraeus japonensis, usually reproduce asexually, with each individual breaking its body into smaller segments, each of which grows into a new adult worm. But when exposed to low levels of radiation - about 15 times found naturally in the environment - the worms begin to reproduce sexually and lay fertilised eggs that develop into juveniles.33
 

Some birds prostitute themselves for food or shelter. Female purple-throated hummingbirds (Eulampis jugularis), for instance, will copulate with males in return for being allowed to forage for food within the male's territory, even during the non-breeding season. Female Adélie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) exchange sex for nest material.34
 

And some male birds will keep a mistress, and pay her handsomely to raise their kids. Great grey shrikes (Lanius excubitor) are a raptor-like passerine bird, and the males and females usually form stable mating pairs. Males like to indulge in a spot of gift-giving, presenting their mates with a prey item such as a rodent, bird, lizard, or large insect immediately before copulation. But some males will have a fling with another bird. What is more, to win over his mistress, the male offers her food that contains four times the energy, and which took much longer to catch, than the food he gives his faithful partner.35
 

One species of mite gets to live longer by having sex. If a female mite (Histiostoma feroniarum) delays mating by even a few daysshe will not only have fewer offspring, but is also likely to die more quickly.36
 

Many species of fish attract potential mates by emptying their bladders. Before ovulating, female goldfish (Carassius auratus), for example, release three steroid hormone-derived pheromones in their urine, which can be smelt by males looking for a suitable partner. The males respond to this cue by increasing the amount of milt - the substance that includes sperm - they produce and by increasing the motility of their sperm. During ovulation, the females release prostaglandins in their urine, which then induces spawning behaviour in the males. Male tilapia fish (Oreochromis mossambicus) also urinate to advertise their status. Female tilapias are particularly sensitive to the smell of male urine, and males increase their rate of urination as part of their courtship display.37
 

Male goats become sexually aroused when they see female goats mount one another.38
 

There are six reliable signs that a female yak (Poephagus grunniens) is in oestrus. In order of frequency of occurrence they are:
FISH THAT FAKE ORGASMS. Copyright © 2006 by Matt Walker. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.

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