Odd Couples: Extraordinary Differences between the Sexes in the Animal Kingdom

Odd Couples: Extraordinary Differences between the Sexes in the Animal Kingdom

by Daphne J. Fairbairn
     
 

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While we joke that men are from Mars and women are from Venus, our gender differences can’t compare to those of many other animals. For instance, the male garden spider spontaneously dies after mating with a female more than fifty times his size. And male blanket octopuses employ a copulatory arm longer than their own bodies to mate with females that outweigh

Overview

While we joke that men are from Mars and women are from Venus, our gender differences can’t compare to those of many other animals. For instance, the male garden spider spontaneously dies after mating with a female more than fifty times his size. And male blanket octopuses employ a copulatory arm longer than their own bodies to mate with females that outweigh them by four orders of magnitude. Why do these gender gulfs exist?

Introducing readers to important discoveries in animal behavior and evolution, Odd Couples explores some of the most extraordinary sexual differences in the animal world. Daphne Fairbairn uncovers the unique and bizarre characteristics of these remarkable species and the special strategies they use to maximize reproductive success. Fairbairn also considers humans and explains that although we are keenly aware of our own sexual differences, they are unexceptional within the vast animal world.

Looking at some of the most amazing creatures on the planet, Odd Couples sheds astonishing light on what it means to be male or female in the animal kingdom.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Balancing descriptive natural history with probing evolutionary biology, Fairbairn (Sex, Size & Gender Roles, coeditor), professor of biology at the University of California Riverside, examines eight striking cases of extreme size differences between males and females of the same species. Her goal is to explore “why sexual differences are such a pervasive and significant part of the fabric of animal variation,” and her case studies run the gamut from enormous elephant seals to birds, fish, spiders, octopi, and tiny barnacles. With male southern elephant seals growing to eight times the size of females, these animals present the largest discrepancy in size among mammals. But their differences are proportionally miniscule compared to those of deep-ocean seadevil fish: females can weigh over 500,000 times more than their male counterparts. Fairbairn also discusses sometimes bizarre relationships between sexes, as when females choose from a selection of displaying males, males become little more than testes attached to females, and males die immediately upon inseminating a female in a single act of sexual congress. The conclusion she draws from this amazing diversity is as profound as it is simple: “there is no ‘normal’ or ‘typical’ pattern of sexual differentiation across the animal kingdom.” 34 illus., 7 tables, & glossary. (May)
Nature - Suzanne Alonzo
I found reading the book like taking a holiday in a foreign land with an enthusiastic and expert guide. You will come back with good stories, and a new appreciation of the amazing diversity of life on Earth and the forces shaping it.
New Scientist - Kate Douglas
Such insights into the lives of animals are what makes Odd Couples so enjoyable, and Fairbairn always takes an evolutionist-eye view to try to understand them.
Australian - Danielle Clode
When we discuss gender roles, we tend to think only of a narrow range of species conforming to our preconceptions about dominant men and domestic women. Fairbairn explodes these preconceptions. . . . [F]ascinating reading.
From the Publisher
One of American Association for the Advancement of Science's Books for General Audiences and Young Adults 2014

"Balancing descriptive natural history with probing evolutionary biology, Fairbairn (Sex, Size & Gender Roles, coeditor), professor of biology at the University of California Riverside, examines eight striking cases of extreme size differences between males and females of the same species. . . . The conclusion she draws from this amazing diversity is as profound as it is simple: 'there is no "normal" or "typical" pattern of sexual differentiation across the animal kingdom.' "Publishers Weekly

"I found reading the book like taking a holiday in a foreign land with an enthusiastic and expert guide. You will come back with good stories, and a new appreciation of the amazing diversity of life on Earth and the forces shaping it."—Suzanne Alonzo,Nature

"I understand much more about these creatures now that I've read this lively new book. . . . [L]ike all of the examples in this fine book, it's far from a traditional marriage."—Laurence A. Marschall, Natural History

"Such insights into the lives of animals are what makes Odd Couples so enjoyable, and Fairbairn always takes an evolutionist-eye view to try to understand them."—Kate Douglas,New Scientist

"When we discuss gender roles, we tend to think only of a narrow range of species conforming to our preconceptions about dominant men and domestic women. Fairbairn explodes these preconceptions. . . . [F]ascinating reading."—Danielle Clode, Australian

"The author has thought deeply about this topic and writes clearly about the many influences and consequences of sexual and natural selection and how they impinge upon reproductive fitness for different animal lineages. An utterly fascinating book that will change how you think about sexual differences."GrrlScientist

"Recommended."Library Journal

"[A]n amazing story. . . . [A]n easy and enjoyable read. . . . It is ambitious, it is an excellent natural history chronicle and it is a nice encyclopedia of sexual differences. Overall, a good one for the library."—D. J. Hosken, Current Biology

"Looking at some of the most amazing creatures on the planet, Odd Couples sheds astonishing light on what it means to be male or female in the animal kingdom."Northeastern and Southeastern Naturalist

"[T]his accessible volume is well organized, and its impressive helpings of technical details never impede readability."—Adrian Barnett, BBC Wildlife Magazine

"In observing the differences between genders, Darwin proposed both individual and natural selection. In this well-written, fascinating volume, Fairbairn explores how the two kinds of selection work to produce the 'odd couples' of the title. . . . [Odd Couples] should appeal to lay and professional readers alike."Choice

"Odd Couples is a very informative and enjoyable book for anyone interested in animal life history. . . . I can recommend it for any interested naturalist whether professional or nonprofessional."—Roger D. Applegate, Canadian Field-Naturalist

"Be prepared to be entertained and fascinated by this stimulating and provocative book. It is certain to spark your curiosity. Fairbairn lakes us on a romp through the animal kingdom. . . . This book provides ample incentive for continued investigations."—Ann Hedrick, Ecology

"Odd Couples present[s] a fun and enlightening plunge into the natural history of some very exceptional animals, along with an authoritative and accessible summary of current evolutionary theory on sex differences."—Robert Cox, Reports of the National Center for Science Education

"Daphne Fairbairn has written an engaging and fascinating book. . . . The well-written text flows nicely. Lay readers will enjoy natural history descriptions; discussions of fitness and Darwinian selection will . . . appeal to professional biologists for whom this book is an excellent model of clear scientific writing."AAAS

Library Journal
Humans are rather fascinated with gender differences. They'll sometimes turn to the animal world to describe certain of their own behaviors, e.g., describing strong mothers as "mama bears," mentioning rabbits in reference to promiscuity, or discussing swans in the context of monogamy. Through colorful descriptions, we imply that animals and humans, especially in gender roles, can be quite alike. Fairbairn shows us just a bit of the much greater complexity that exists in the natural world. She highlights seven examples of differences between the males and females of a species, ranging from the more familiar (elephant seals) to the unfamiliar (giant sea devils) to the downright creepy (bone-eating worms). Each chapter comes with a helpful subtitle, for example "Shell-Burrowing Barnacles: Sac-Like Females with Harems of Phallic Males." She begins her book with a general explanation of why sex differences exist at all and ends with a scholarly classification scheme of them. VERDICT Fairbairn's writing makes this book suitable for a general audience with an interest in biology, while her inclusion of endnotes, charts, tables, and a glossary makes it useful as well for those with a more technical bent. Recommended.—Marianne Stowell Bracke, Purdue Univ. Lib., West Lafayette, IN

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781400847600
Publisher:
Princeton University Press
Publication date:
04/28/2013
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
312
Sales rank:
735,775
File size:
7 MB

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Meet the Author

Daphne J. Fairbairn is professor of biology at the University of California, Riverside. She has written widely on the science of sexual differences.

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