24 May 2004

Winning a lady's heart

What does it take to win a lady’s heart? A home plastered with berry juice? How about good cologne or good pick-up lines?

What does it take to win a lady’s heart? A home plastered with berry juice? How about good cologne or good pick-up lines?

The world watches what David Beckham wears. Were he a bird, he’d fit right in. In her book, Dr Tatiana’s Sex Advice For All Creation, Olivia Judson has compiled a compelling, intensively researched and intensely funny account of how the animal world gets it on.

Written as an Agony Aunt column for the animal world, it’s a bit like nature’s most bizarrely resourceful denizens being described by Gary Larson, author of the cartoon, The Far Side. As one reviewer swooned, “Never has science seemed more like daytime television”.

Meet the artist
She describes the behaviour of the bowerbird, a relation of the bird of paradise, found in the cloud forests of Papua New Guinea and the rain forests of Australia. “Like aristocrats everywhere, these birds have free time. And so naturally they have a hobby. It’s art.

“Male bowerbirds spend weeks building and decorating elaborate ‘bowers’. Depending on the species the bower can be anything from a clearing with artfully strewn leaves to huts more than four metres wide or towers more ten feet high, woven out of sticks or painted with juice from crushed fruits, and decorated with flowers, mushrooms, feathers, snakeskins, snail shells, butterfly wings, beetle heads – or anything else that catches the artist’s eye.

“One scientist nearly had his camera stolen by a bowerbird who wanted to add it to his décor. Another almost lost his socks.”

Her description of the bluehead wrasse, a coral reef fish, forming groups to go off an romance the lady wrasses sounds a bit like a description of slightly gawky teenagers sticking together for security while they encounter groups of the opposite sex.

Genders stick together
Lots of animals tend to hang around with their own gender until it’s time to mate. For some reason, male and female mice even seem to end up on opposite sides of the uterus, according to a report in a recent New Scientist. The same article says that the more sexual dimorphic (The difference between male and female), the more males and females stick together – but not always.

A traditional barbecue may be marked by the men pondering the intricacies of whether the coals are hot enough to put the meat on, while the ladies make coleslaw inside the house.

Catching her eye
So, what the humans do to get their counterparts’ attention is remarkably similar to what animals do: they sing (think chat-up lines, taste in music and funky ringtones), display (clothes, cars) or build a decent home (a tastefully appointed “crib” where she’ll feel at home).

You might splash out on some CK1 to splash on, but remember that the animal world is better at pheromones than you. Work on your chat-up lines but remember that you can’t outsing a bird, however hard you try.

And sexual prowess? Please. Some lions get get in on 150 times in 50 hours. Try that and you’d need medical attention, not Viagra.

Giant water bugs, hardly the kings of the beast or even the swamp, have been known to copulate 100 times in 30 hours. Apparently the females consent to this because the males carry the eggs around on their backs and help hatch them. Moral of the story? You might be better off being nice and offering to help carry the shopping than worrying about being able to say, snappy one-liners she’ll roll her eyes at. (William Smook)


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