The Big Issue : Edition 473
38 THEBIGISSUE5–25DEC2014 ILLUSTRATIONBYSHUTTERSTOCK they refuse to mate in captivity. “I’m a zoologist by trade,” Howard says. “But I’ve always had a short fuse when it comes to public misconceptions about animals that unfairly tarnish them as sexual deviants or dead-ends. Ducks aren’t dirty. Snakes aren’t monsters. To me, a panda isn’t hapless in bed, it’s a sexual race car – we just read the dials wrong.” Written with humour and a self- deprecating flair, Sex on Earth is a surprisingly easy read. It is detail heavy, with plenty of little-known facts available to fling at friends at the right moment. Like “exploding duck penises”, or the bonobo (part of the primate family) habit of having sex face to face. Yet this isn’t a simple book of scientific facts. Howard tucks in cultural references alongside the biology: instances of monogamy and multiple mating, Darwin’s theory of Sex Selection and the bizarrely shaped genitalia of dragonflies. And it’s an adventure: the author obsesses over the mating habits of the frogs in his backyard, explores glow-worm caves after midnight and releases spiderlings into the wild. He even includes a disturbing tale of the horse stud business, which trades in what “is possibly the most expensive liquid on the planet”. Around the world in custom-built arenas with viewing platforms, horse breeders pay up to AU$85,000 per ejaculation in the hope that the genetic material will create a race-winning foal. “It’s a journey, rather than a series of explanations, about how sex works,” he says. “Popular science doesn’t always have to tread a straight path. But there’s science at its heart.” Howard spent a year researching this book, embarking on a quest for knowledge that took him all over WHEN I WAS 10 years old, I opened the freezer and found a bag of fat, fleshy fingers inside. In horror, I asked Mum what they were: “Chicken penis,” she said. They were, of course, chicken necks. Thank you very much, Mum, for confusing me about animal biology (and for disturbing me as a child). Since then, I’ve always wondered: do birds have penises? And if they don’t, how the hell are eggs fertilised? Thank God for Jules Howard, who answers this question and many more in his new book, Sex on Earth, which details the genitalia and bizarre mating rituals of dozens of different animals. One of the reasons he wrote the book was to help combat the seemingly simplistic understanding of animal sexuality exemplified in popular news stories. Case in point: the romanticisation of panda couples in zoos – and the sense of failure when LOU HEINRICH WANTS SOME ANSWERS TO HIS QUESTIONS ABOUT ANIMAL SEX. LUCKILY, JULES HOWARD HAS WRITTEN A BOOK ALL ABOUT IT.