On Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos”

In these hard days for me I’ve tried to distract myself with my favorite television series when I was much younger: the thirty episodes of The Champions and the thirteen of Cosmos by Carl Sagan.

Since I wrote about those TV series I’ve changed my mind. For example, I now see with respect the efforts of the late Alexandra Bastedo, one of the stars of The Champions, to create an animal sanctuary in West Sussex, England. The Champions was a detective fiction series in the late 1960s, but the anti-Nazi propaganda that appears in at least five episodes was something that I did not give importance to as a child.

The fame of The Champions in the late 1960s and early 70s pales compared to the fame of the series of scientific dissemination Cosmos a decade later. Sagan was of Jewish descent, something I did not know when, at the 1994 conference of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry in Seattle (known in that year as the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal) I met him personally and shook his hand. Then I was as liberal as Sagan. Now I am a national socialist, so in my recent revisit to Sagan’s famous series I have new eyes.

In the final episode of Cosmos Sagan could not resist talking about the progress of liberating women, and that a new planetary consciousness was being created (referring in part to liberalism and progressivism). He criticized the ethnocentrism of Plato and Aristotle, who spoke of “the barbarians” when humanity is one for a hypothetical enlightened extraterrestrial. More than once in the series Sagan spoke of slavery as a cancer, sometimes giving the impression that it was the cause of the decline of the Greco-Roman world.

He mentioned the word racism as a bad thing, and in two of his programs they filmed a room with American children of all races: something inconceivable when Sagan was a kid. In Cosmos Sagan chose a negress kid for a lesson during that class of integrated children contemplating photos of the planets. Speaking about humanity in general, he or the producers inserted images of the people of India and colored children while Sagan’s voice in off described the high virtues of mankind: as if the colored were legitimate representatives of the white man’s will to decipher the universe.

There is a more general criticism I can elaborate about Cosmos. Since I loved the series in the early 1980s, when I liked science-fiction and the themes of space, I have changed radically. Now, like Nietzsche, I believe that we must be faithful to the Earth.

Most of Cosmos is an introduction to astronomy. But what good is studying the stars of the firmament when the Aryans, deceived by movie stars, commit ethno-suicide? The science that children and adolescents should know in this dark age should not be Byzantine but relevant. Children, adolescents and young people, as Bastedo saw well, should watch over the well-being of our cousins. In addition, whites must recognize the 14 words. Arthur Kemp summed up very well what the focus of knowledge should be on a Red Ice TV interview. The focus must be on history, more specifically, on how interbreeding has been the nemesis of the West throughout the millennia.

When I finished seeing Cosmos in my mature age it occurred to me that, if I had a young son, I would edit it by censuring not only the liberal propaganda, but most shots about astronomy with the exception of what Sagan calls the Cosmic calendar. That would mean significantly reducing the Cosmos series to practical and positive terrestrial messages, and the youth could see it in a couple of programs.

The recent events in my life have turned me into a priest of what I have now baptized as “the four words,” which I will explain in future articles. For the moment it is enough to say that in a future school, the priest of the 4 and 14 words could show the children these scenes taken from Cosmos:

From episode 1, what Sagan says about Eratosthenes and the beautiful ancient city of Alexandria.

From episode 2, what he says about a majestic tree (an oak) and man: we are related.

From episode 3, one of my favorite scenes of Cosmos: the recreation of the life of Johannes Kepler.

From episode 4, dedicated to the planet Venus, I would only rescue how some westerners self-deceived themselves by speculating there must be dinosaurs on Venus just because they saw through the telescope that it was covered in clouds.

From episode 5, dedicated to the planet Mars, I would only rescue something very similar: how the astronomer Percival Lowell self-deceived himself into believing that there were canals constructed by Martians.

From episode 6, the magnificent staging of the enlightened Netherlands in times of the densest darkness in large parts of Europe.

From episode 7, Sagan’s presentation of Democritus and Pythagoras, and his criticism of the latter’s mysticism.

From Episode 8, what Sagan says about Leonardo da Vinci but not what he says about Einstein. (Only the biographers of the future will be able to conclusively show whether or not this Einstein Jew stole his discoveries from white scientists.)

From episode 9, the didactic presentation of the periodic table of the elements.

From episode 10, only the recreation of the scenes of astronomer Milton Humason in his observatory.

From episode 11, the introduction to the science of the human brain, including the shots inside a cozy library.

From episode 12, the recreation of the life of Champollion, including his travel to Egypt.

From episode 13, what I consider the most important of the series: the tragedy of the destruction of the Library of Alexandria and the horrible murder of Hypatia by St Cyril’s mob. This is something that those white nationalists who cling to the religion of their parents do not dare to see.

A DVD containing this highly edited version of Cosmos could be educational for a young mind who wants to get initiated in the mysteries of the world and science. This would be for home-schooled kids of course: not for the kind that will protest Richard Spencer at Auburn tonight.

Worst generation ever

If our classics, for proper assimilation, must be read on paper why aren’t white nationalists devouring the printed books of Ostara Publications? Recently, after purchasing Hans Günther’s The Racial Elements of European History I was surprised to see that in the US there existed flourishing Nordicist societies when my grandparents were young. (Because of the outcome of the Second World War, now those societies are long gone.)

As explained in my previous post, white nationalists usually respond with emotional non-sequiturs when confronted with the ABC of physical anthropology, or more specifically raciology (human race studies). Starting with Gobineau (1816-1882), there is a breach between the ideas of our classics that culminated in the Third Reich, and the egalitarian ideology of American white nationalists who, religiously, believe that all whites have been created equal.

Not even so-called race realists try to define scientifically the concept of “White” or “Aryan.” To bridge the gap between us I have now extensively reviewed, corrected the many syntactic mistakes of the original translation, and substantially abridged and adapted “The New Racial Classification,” published in Spanish some years ago on the site Evropa Soberana.


For those who will take the trouble of saving this jewel of the novel approach to raciology in their hard drives, pay special attention to the following sentences keeping in mind the second interpretation of the 14 words:

The White Nordid race, even before being identified as such, has been taken in many cases (the classical era, the Renaissance, neoclassicism, German Nazism) as a prototype and an ideal goal to achieve… Abundance of athletic and active women, attractive and of great beauty, have resulted in a very high reproductive success of White Nordid maternal lineages.

But the most beautiful race has an Achilles heel:

…also innocent, unable to cheat and useless in diplomacy. This race is not shrewd not because it lacks intelligence but due to an “angelical” way of understanding the world. This makes them vulnerable in a degraded and debased modern society, so that darker and more primitive racial types tend to take advantage of them. This race represents the myth of the unworried and trusting Siegfried and the “stab on the back” archetype.

As Aryan males are allowing their women to become increasingly debauched with mudbloods, sand-niggers and even niggers—:

The only option in this regard would be biopolitics, biosocial engineering, and a positive eugenics program to rescue the hereditary information that remains, hidden and badly combined, in the genetic pool of the modern “white race.”

Inspired in a Nietzschean sentence from The Antichrist, when interracial sex produces mongrels I call miscegenation the sin against the holy ghost. It is unforgivable because it took an extremely long time to create the White Nordid race, and this generation—the worst generation ever since Prehistory—is destroying the labor of millennia within a single generation!

Geneticists believe that 850,000 years of isolation and segregated selection to be necessary for the development of the extraordinary White Nordid phenotypic traits… Even so, it seems difficult that a race like the White Nordid has arisen randomly and by chance: it seems to be the result of a “directed evolution.”

Sexual selection, an intuitive knowledge of the 14 words, was apparently the driver in the prehistorical times of the peoples whose descendents have produced the West.

I can only hope that Nordicist societies flourish again in the US once white nationalism gives way to the much saner and coherent worldview of National Socialism.

Since the text “The New Racial Classification” is a mini-book I have now made it available in PDF so that it may be printed for a comfortable reading in English: [1]


[1] The PDF appears exactly as it will be seen in the forthcoming 2017 edition of The Fair Race’s Darkest Hour.

War of the sexes, 12

Update: The following text is rough draft. The series has been substantially revised and abridged, and the section by the YouTube blogger Turd Flinging Monkey is available in a single PDF: here.

______ 卐 ______


Are men superior to women?

Those who design computer games depict warrior women as faster than robust men. The same with Hollywood. Remember one of the films of the Matrix trilogy? The black actress who plays Niobe is the best pilot of a Zion hovercraft. In reality women are slower. Men are not only stronger but faster, including reflexes.

The same with intelligence. I used to be a chess player. Generally, the sexes are separated in chess tournaments. Even those female child prodigies in China trained to become chess masters are no match for male grandmasters. (By the way, the 2016 world chess championship is scheduled to start this November 11 in New York City between Magnus Carlsen and challenger Sergey Karjakin: two male whites.)

The same can be said about the careers of physics, mathematics and computing. Men perform far better. The System’s solution? The blogger does not mention race but what is being done with the fair sex is exactly what is done with the niggers: “lower the math standard for women.” That is the official policy in the universities. Once again, Hollywood brainwashes us with poisonous films like Starship Troopers where the main characters, Johnny Rico and his girlfriend Carmen Ibañez, travel in a spaceship to conquer a bug planet. Johnny had obtained low math grades and has to work as a mere infantryman while the smarter Carmen got high math grades, obtaining a job to pilot a starship.

Independently of this shameful inversion of reality in Hollywood and computer games, the blogger says that emotional intelligence is bullshit, that it does not exist. But I agree with Schopenhauer on this point, that “women never see anything but what is closest to them. To consult women when you are in difficulties, as the ancient Teutons did, is by no means a bad idea: for their way of looking at things is quite different from ours, especially in their propensity for keeping in view the shortest road to a desired goal and in general what lies closest to hand, which we usually overlook precisely because it is right in front of our noses”.

The blogger continues to say that the only way that women can win against men is if the system is rigged, exactly what is happening now with the 2016 US election. Sean Hannity is virtually alone in the entire media to openly support Donald Trump!

In his video the blogger has concluded that men are superior to women not only physically but mentally. In a follow-up video, “Men are smarter than women,” he adds that he received critics for his prior video even from the manosphere. He refutes the argument of deceiving IQ studies conducted by dishonest egalitarians showing that pubescent girls score better than boys of the same age. The dirty trick consists that girls reach physical maturity before boys, something that is reflected in IQ studies of the span of puberty where girls score better. But they reach their maximum brain volume at 10.5 years, and boys at 14. (“The nobler and more perfect a thing is, the later and more slowly does it mature. The man attains the maturity of his reasoning powers and spiritual faculties hardly before his twenty-eight year; the woman with her eighteenth” —Schopenhauer.) Adult men have a brain ten percent larger than women, and five more points of IQ (again, the antiracist blogger simply ignores IQ studies among the races). In the case of those humans who reach the Himalayas of IQ, say from 140 to 160, they are all males. “In conclusion, men are smarter than women, period.”

I would add that we men are not only physically and intellectually superior, but morally (honor, nobility) as well—and thus objectively superior.

But like white nationalists MGTOWers are still plugged in the Matrix of political correctness. Remember the hysterical fuss at The Daily Stormer that Andrew Anglin suffered for stating the obvious about women? Exactly the same happened to this blogger in the manosphere community. In a follow-up video, “False stereotypes,” the blogger says that in the comments sections of his YouTube channel he was accused of incredible claims: that he was probably gay; an ugly fellow incapable of getting laid; an unredeemable misogynist who lived in his mom’s basement, etcetera. All false, ad hoc stereotypes coming from those who cannot stand hard facts.

Still in another follow-up, “Men are smarter than women 2,” the blogger responds to another tactic from utterly dismayed viewers: the denial of the validity of the science of sexual dimorphism.


Natural science impossible to refute:
male and female mallards. The male mallard
has an unmistakable green head.

In this follow-up video the blogger responds to a feminist that made a career in so-called gender studies. The woman claimed that men have larger brains because the brains are proportionate to their larger bodies in general. The blogger counters with the fact that even children have more cranial capacity than girls, and the same can be said about adults: the difference between the male and the female brains is of the size of a soup bar. Liberals want us to believe that this has zero relevance for their egalitarian dogma.

The blogger then mentions a crude test for cranial size that we could use at home: measuring tape around the heads of family males and females. But as the staunch antiracist he is, the blogger fails to present the perfect argument. Even tall and robust, muscular niggers have a smaller brain size than skinny Caucasians!

So far for the proportional argument that the feminist used. Finally, remember once more Schopenhauer’s wise words about the fair sex:

Women are suited to being the nurses and teachers of our earliest childhood precisely because they themselves are childish, silly and short-sighted, in a word big children, their whole lives long: a kind of intermediate stage between the child and the man, who is the actual human being, “Man”.

In the girl nature has had in view what could in theatrical terms be called a stage-effect: it has provided her with superabundant beauty and charm for a few years at the expense of the whole remainder of her life, so that during these years she may so capture the imagination of a man that he is carried away into undertaking to support her honorably in some form or another for the rest of his life, a step he would seem hardly likely to take for purely rational considerations. Thus nature has equipped women, as it has all its creatures, with the tools and weapons she needs for securing her existence, and at just the time she needs them; in doing which nature has acted with its usual economy.

In another video, “Women are children,” the blogger implies that today’s westerners are slaves of the egalitarian dogma: a dogma they pursue independently of the data we can gather from nature. Gender equality simply cannot be enforced in the real world, and he concludes his video with the words “Women will always be children.”

War of the sexes, 8

Update: The following text is rough draft. The series has been substantially revised and abridged, and the section by the YouTube blogger Turd Flinging Monkey is available in a single PDF: here.

______ 卐 ______


My extracts of John Sparks’ Battle of the Sexes may give the reader a taste of the flavor of his book. I ordered Sparks’ book while living in Manchester in 1999 and found this scientific area of observation of Nature more than fascinating: it contains the ABC to decode human sexuality.


From this entry onwards I’ll be quoting and paraphrasing the blogger Turd Flinging Monkey, who uses this gravatar in YouTube. The most conspicuous difference between this blogger and academic naturalists is the blunt language he uses to state the obvious (keep in mind Spark’s excerpts in the previous entries):

  • Humans are animals too
  • Our primitive brain naturally overpowers our rationality
  • We are controlled by our primitive biological urges (e.g., sacrifice ourselves pursuing reproduction)
  • The enemy that would betray us males is our own biology
  • Men are wired to acquire resources, compete with other men and sacrifice ourselves in order to attract a mate.

Curiously, in the YouTube audio where the blogger stated the above he used an example of male birds trying to impress females quite similar to what Sparks wrote in the third entry.

In the next posts I’ll follow closely what the blogger has said in his videos and audios, starting from his oldest videos.

Published in: on October 30, 2016 at 10:40 pm  Comments (1)  

War of the sexes, 7

The battle continues

By nature, the negotiation between the sexes is a dynamic process. The tension between males and females continues and, accordingly, the compromises struck between them in their quest for genetic supremacy are ever changing.

The seeds of change can be detected on the rocky beaches of Rona on which grey seals breed. Rona is a small island well to the west of the Orkney Islands off the north coast of Scotland. At the best of times it is a wild and windy place, bearing the brunt of the Atlantic swell. In October, when the seals give birth and then immediately mate again, it is frequently lashed by gales; the exposed cliffs and gullies shudder under the pounding waves. But the appalling conditions are apparently of no consequence. Rona hosts the densest population of grey seals in the North Atlantic—about 600 breeding females.

The grey seal is a classical polygamous species with a very marked size difference between the sexes. Whereas every cow can expect to breed, the bulls are not so fortunate. Each one lives in the hope that one day he will be big enough and sufficiently good fighter to win his own harem of cows. Sexual selection among bull grey has therefore favoured the most powerful pugilists, and the biggest warriors get their chance to mate with perhaps a dozen females each season.

However, a few of the lesser bulls, which stand no chance of succeeding in combat, turn luckily—and it is all down to the cows. Although most happily fall for the victorious bulls, a minority of females take a fancy to the males of a more gentle disposition which lounge on the sidelines. Luckily grey seals can be recognised by their individual markings. It has therefore been possible to discover that these cows tend to return in successive years to the same males, and they appear to strike monogamous ‘marriages’.

greysealmatingClearly two separate mating strategies are underway, but perhaps the female grey seals are beginning to exercise a preference for less disruptive and less heavy bulls to father their pups. If so, their choice is nudging evolution towards establishing monogamy in place of the current strongly polygamous arrangement.

We know that the nature of habitats favours some breeding systems over others. Perhaps this is the case with these seals, which probably bred on sea ice during the last Ice Age. Now that the climate has improved and the ice retreated, grey seals may still be in the process of adapting to the change—and this includes establishing a new relationship between the sexes.

Published in: on October 30, 2016 at 1:25 pm  Comments (1)  

War of the sexes, 6


Family affairs

Sex is divisive, disruptive and often destructive. The urge to reproduce frequently manifests itself in aggression, shattering social groups and driving animals to lead independent lives. Males are especially violent, battling over territories, jealously fighting for what they regard as their own and making as many sexual conquests as possible. Females, too, are capable of spinning their own webs of intrigue. As each mother is rooting only for her own offspring, she may attempt to spoil a rival female’s chances of breeding, or even surreptitiously maltreat or murder another mother’s infants to enhance the prospects of her own. Such activities are hardly conductive to smoothly running societies.

And yet a whole range of creatures manage to live in communities of one kind or another. The question arises as to how sex as a major source of tension is kept under control in species which, perhaps for environmental reasons, need to live in highly organised communities? The lifestyles of the gelada baboon illustrates how the uneasy relationship between oppressive males and fearful females works out in this very social primate…

No member of the troop is immune from the male’s temper. His most violent attacks are likely to be saved for the confident young bachelors which dare to challenge him for the harem, but even his ‘wives’ are wary of his anger and may be beaten without mercy, especially if they refuse to submit when he tries to force them into copulating… Of course, the mother of all fights for the despot is his final-show down when, after perhaps two years in power, he is toppled by whichever of the bachelors feels confident and strong enough to mount a challenge for the females… The takeover generally heralds a period of instability for the harem. The victorious male is inevitably inexperienced at disciplining a group of females, so they tend to wander apart and become prey to the attentions of other overlords and feisty bachelors.

Despite all the violence and apparent chaos in gelada groups, these animals still live together in troops up to 600 strong—bigger than the societies of any other primate, barring our own. So why do animals live in such super-families if this means exposing themselves to daily lives fraught with tension?
Machiavellian males

In Renaissance Italy, the statesman and author Niccolo Machiavelli realised the virtues of oppressive rulers with no moral scruples in uniting human societies, and pondered the relative merits of being loved or feared. Love, he reasoned, is maintained by obligations which can easily be broken when it is advantageous to do so. Fear, on the other hand, never fails to command respect because of the dread of punishment. So it is with many of our closest relatives; in a number of primate species, tyrannical males constantly chastise insubordinate members of their troops and coerce reluctant females to mate with them.

Monkeys and baboons are among the cleverest and craftiest of all animals. Living in troops, they are big-brained, bright creatures, capable of playing politics, all attempting to influence those around them for their own selfish ends. Indeed, it is thought that the need for complex interactions led to the evolution of intelligence in the first place, rather than vice versa. While feeding or mutually grooming, these animals appear peaceful, but they are keenly aware of each other’s rank, who is friends with whom and who must be treated with kid gloves. Such considerations create tensions that are liable to surface without much warning into bouts of bickering, or worse.

Sexuality is a major cause of strife. The ever-willing mature males are constantly exposed to the females within their troops and, when the latter come into full oestrus, the highest-ranking male—or ‘clique’ of males in some baboons and macaques—dictates which mates with them; this means either the top male or those which have curried favour with him. Less fortunate rivals which try to get in on the action are beaten up.

This monopoly of copulation in groups where there are several mature but subordinate males is bound to lead to frustration; this in turn can explode into jealous rages in which animals may be hurt. If dominant males do not get their own way, they are likely to punish whoever they see as the culprit. Even females are frequently bullied because they are not willing to mate as often as the males would like them to—a situation which can lead to rape. In one study, almost half of all copulations in a group of wild orang-utans happened after fierce resistance by the females had been overcome by the males.

In many primates, sexual aggravation is rather subtle, but in hamadryas baboons—the sacred baboon revered by the ancient Egyptians—the harassment is often gratuitously handed out by males and easy to observe. Hamadryas are swarthy animals with rather stocky legs admirably suited to scrambling around the steep gorges in the Middle East and the adjacent part of Africa where they live. The sexes are quite different from each other. Although the females look like regular brown baboons, their overlords are dressed to impress, with dog-like faces and bare buttocks in matching pink. Their drove-grey fur is fashioned in ‘poodle cut’, with tufts on the head and a long cape flowing from the shoulders to the hips, making them appear as large and as formidable as possible.

These Machiavellian tyrants are dedicated polygamists, each shepherding as many as ten females to form his own personal harem, which he maintains during his prime years. Each keeps his females close by to satisfy his smouldering sexual demands. They in turn keep him company for fear of being trashed or bitten should they wander too afar from his side. Their fear is well founded, because the males are aggressive disciplinarians and frequently threaten violence by eyebrow-raising, thumping the ground, ‘yawning’ and whetting their upper canines against the teeth of their lower jaws. Any breach of etiquette incurs the male’s wrath, often resulting in a humiliating neck bite for the offending female or a trashing for an immature male.

Machiavellian male. The dominant male hamadryas baboon is a bully, but has complete access to all the females of his harem. Females depend upon him to protect them.
The females exploit the male’s permanent interest in sex. They are able to vie with him for food and escape punishment simply by proffering their pink hind quarters. Presented with such an erotic appeasement gesture, the male is more likely to mount than to lash out. However, a female hamadryas which refuses to copulate with her male when he wants her to does so at her peril. Even so, many mating encounters look more like acts of aggression.

But why do females and low-ranking males stand for such oppressive treatment? As explained at the end of the last chapter, fierce males have their uses.

Published in: on October 29, 2016 at 10:51 pm  Comments (1)  

War of the sexes, 5

The parental dilemma

There is a fascinating aspect of avian parenting. Birds perhaps more than any other group of animals show how the environment plays a key role in driving the separate interests of males and females.

Jacanas inhabit tropical pools and lakes and can pick their way across floating vegetation, spreading their weight on their very long toes—hence the alternative name of ‘lily-trotters’. Bearing a vermilion shield of their foreheads, American jacanas have reddish-brown plumage with brilliant golden-green pinions which are conspicuous in flight. But it is their breeding arrangements that make these birds especially interesting: the females practice a particularly extreme form of polyandry, with the males undertaking all the duties normally performed by their partners.

A female jacana enjoys the services of several males, which do all the work of building the floating nests, incubating the eggs for nearly a month until they hatch and then caring for the chicks for a further two months. They make devoted fathers and when danger threatens any of the brood, the chicks either shelter beneath his wings or, on a call from him, sink under the water with only the tip of their bill showing so that they can breath.

The females are 75 per cent larger than their mates, do all the courting and scrap among themselves for territories. The most successful fighters are the heaviest with the biggest, reddest wattles. The shields display a record of their owner’s fighting history, as the scars of old injuries are yellow. Such fierce females may manage to defend a territory with as many as six males. Within her area, each male has his own nest located in his own patch of vegetation, but as he is relatively puny, he is unable to drive off the trespassing females. When there is a female intruder, he screams for his own mate to defend his share of her freehold. In the event of a new hen taking over, the males make a feeble attempt to expel her, but within a few hours they have accepted the inevitable and mate with her. Such takeovers are bad news for the vanquished females, because the victor will set about destroying the eggs and methodically hunting down the chicks of her predecessor so that she can immediately employ the males to look after her own eggs.

In effect, a female jacana acts like a fierce egg factory with no constraint on her production line, completing a clutch of four every ten days or so. By contrast, the reproductive potential of each of her partners is severely limited because, once he has received a clutch of eggs, the male is tied up with parental responsibilities for the best part of three months. The female’s sexual potential is limited only by the number of males she can exploit and retain in the face of serious competition from other hens.

Apart from laying eggs, hen jacanas behave just like the strutting cocks of other species—they are big, aggressive, passionate and less choosy than most females about their sexual partners. On the other hand, their mates act like traditional hens—the caring, gentler sex. This is such a reversal of the normal situation that it raises the question, what are the special circumstances which favour the evolution of polyandry on such a scale?

The answer may be found in the rich environment which jacanas inhabit. With no shortage of moisture and heated by the tropical sun, the swamps are among the most productive places on the planet. Such is their immense fertility that it has been estimated that the calorific value of the food available on 1 square metre (10 square feet) of ground is equivalent to two dozen chocolate bars. In fact, for the jacanas, these places are like open bird tables groaning with goodies. So easy are the pickings that, unlike most female birds, hen jacanas have evolved into ‘battery hens’, churning out egg after egg with little physiological stress. They have therefore seized the reproductive initiative, pursuing a strategy of continuous egg production while coercing a coterie of males into incubating the eggs and guarding the chicks…

Jacanas are not the only birds to indulge in polyandry. Several kinds of shore birds practice it on the Arctic or sub-Arctic breeding grounds.
Single mothers

Examples of polyandry are few and far between for the simple reason that the environment rarely gives females such an easy ride as it does the jacanas and Arctic wading birds. For most birds, finding enough extra food to manufacture eggs packed with nutrients is an arduous business. World wide, hen birds are constrained in the number of eggs they can lay in a season and so they, as the limited resources, are fought over as the males—which are free to copulate with as many partners as they can secure. In most wading birds, wildfowl and members of the pheasant and goose family, all parental duties are sifted firmly on the females. Their mates play no part in incubation or protecting their vulnerable chicks after they have emerged from the eggs.

In all of these cases, the young are hatched in a relatively advanced state and can run around and forage for themselves. The parent which defects—whether it is the cock or the hen in the polygamous species—is therefore not needed as provider of food, which makes his or her desertion that much easier.

But there can be intense rivalry between single mothers and lone fathers. Barrow’s golden eye, for example, is a tough little diving duck and one population breeds on Lake Myvatn in Iceland. The females nest alongside fast flowing rivers leading out of the lake, and when the ducklings hatch the mother leads them on a perilous journey upstream to the best feeding areas. The journey is dangerous because they literally risk their lives getting there.

If they pass a male whose female is late hatching and still sitting on eggs, he mercilessly beats them to death, because he doesn’t want any ducklings competing with his own offspring. If they survive the hurdle and reach the feeding area, other females already there will also attack and kill newcomers to protect the best sources of food for their own broods. In July each year, the upper reaches of Lake Myvatn can be a scene of carnage, with hundreds of dead ducklings—the result of mothers furiously fighting for the interests of their own broods at the expense of others.
Mammals: natural-born mothers

In just over 90 per cent of birds, monogamy prevails. This reflects the near impossibility of females producing an unlimited supply of eggs in most habitats, and the fact that male birds are able to make a significant contribution to the survival of the chicks. But there is one major group of creatures in which this is not so—the mammals. Among these equally hot-blooded, very active animals, monogamy is confined to a mere 5 per cent; in the rest the males have completely opted out of parenting…

male-and-female-klipspringersDwarf antelopes—such as the klipspringers and dik-diks of southern and eastern Africa—are unusual among hoofed animals in that they go around in pairs. They frequent clustered bush and thickly vegetated forest where nourishing herbage of the kind that they like is widely scattered. It therefore pays these animals to be territorial so that they can acquire an intimate knowledge of the places where their food occurs.

The buck, which is often slightly smaller than his mate, ensures success in the paternity stakes by commandeering an area of desirable bush and then behaving as a constant consort to his female, never moving more than a few paces from her aside for fear of losing sight of her in the dense vegetation—and possibly losing his sexual monopoly of her as well. It has been recorded that a pair of klipspringers spend their entire adult lives literally within 5 metres (16 feet) of each other. When the fawns arrive, the female cares for them, though the father is always nearby, preoccupied with guarding the mother. Such long bonds lessen the competition between males and so preclude the need for large, aggressive bucks of the kind found in deer and some larger antelopes.

A similar situation prevails in gibbons. These singing apes from South-East Asia appear to live like happily married couples together with their immature children. However, on close inspection, it can be seen that a male gibbon is not so much a caring father as the guardian of the adult female with whom he has chosen to breed. He is also a valiant defender of the swathe of jungle through which she and their joint offspring need to forage for tender leaves and ripe fruit. For a male gibbon, monogamy pays reproductive dividends; by keeping a close track of his ‘wife’ in the complex, cluttered canopy of the rain-forest, he can be sure of fathering her offspring. Unlikely among apes, male gibbons are virtually indistinguishable from their mates—a characteristic that reflects the low level of competition for females.

Only the male siamang—the largest of the gibbons, from the Malay Peninsula of Sumatra—shows a high level of paternal interest, taking over the daily care of his infant when it is about a year old and continuing to look after it closely for the next two years.

Published in: on October 28, 2016 at 12:17 pm  Comments (2)  

War of the sexes, 4

The sexual connection

This chapter is about some of the obvious and some of the surprising ways in which females force sperms to prove their worth before reaching their goal, and how males bypass—or cheat their way past—any obstacles put in the way of their gametes.

The quest for conception, which is fundamentally what the battle of the sexes is all about, has driven the evolution of bodily design, the greatest natural technology race on earth. As both sexes ‘strive’ to take control of the process of fertilization, the females develop hurdles for sperm to overcome, and the sperm’s delivery systems—the males—counter with cunning copulatory devices and practices which raise the odds on ensuing their success. This aspect of sexual strife is universal, even among lowly creatures such as millipedes, whose intricate love life belies their simple nature…

Bedbugs once inhabited bat caves and the dens of large European mammals. Now they are better known as denizens of dirty doss houses and squalid accommodation, and emerge at night to crawl stealthily between the bedclothes to suck blood, leaving only an irritating blotch on the skin as a memento of their visit.

The males avoid the natural genital route of inseminating their mates in favour of a rapid but uniquely barbarous method. They drive their penis like a hypothermic syringe through the body wall of the female and inject sperm directly into the cavity occupied by the circulating blood (the haemocoel). The process is known, appropriately, as ‘traumatic insemination’!
Penis power

Land vertebrates are not quite so enterprising as insects in the way they make the sexual connection. Their generations have a much slower turnover, and the relatively smaller populations mean that the engine of evolution works more slowly because innovations are thrown up less often. And yet the same considerations prevail.

In the paranoid quest for as many partners as possible, males attempt to scatter their seed in all directions, and females, in the search for the perfect male, ideally like to keep their options open by encouraging rivalry between sperm from different males. Whether aphid or elephant, ensuing paternity is an issue that exercises males, and females still seek the best fathers for their offspring…

The mammalian penis has a dual function, not only serving to pipe semen into the vagina, but also doubling up as a spout for directing urine away from the body. Fully grown African elephants have a mechanical difficulty during their rare bouts of pachydermous passion. Weighting up nearly 10 tones, they are rigidly constructed and incapable of gyrating their pelvis to dock their penis. The cows have evolved an unusual genital lay-out to assist intercourse—their vaginal opening has relocated from the usual position beneath the anus to a site under their baggy bellies where you would expect to find a navel. This saves the bull from having to attempt the impossible task of bringing his groin close up against his mate’s thighs in order to copulate.

Although the cow elephant’s low-slung vulva is much easier to reach, the bull still has to mount her, putting great stress not only on her legs, but also on his own hind quarters. Young cows occasionally break a leg as a result of being chased and mounted by heavyweight males.

Once in position, much of the action is performed by the bull’s ‘motorized’ penis. It is a monster, weighting 25 kilograms (55 pounds) and extending nearly 2 metres (6 foot 6 inches) under the influence of a pounding heart. The jumbo penis is also a veritable power-pack, containing not only erectile tissue but its own engine muscles, enabling it to trash around, searching for the vaginal opening. Shaped rather like a hook, it is well adapted for reaching a long way beneath the female’s belly and probing upwards, penetrating deeply into her low-slung receptacle to make contact with the cervix. After performing a few piston-like thrusts, the bull ejaculates. Once mating is complete, competition from other males forces the bull to protect his paternity by guarding the cow for a while, preventing her from taking another partner whose sperm might usurp his own.
Chastity belts

By means of packages of various kinds of extendible organs, males deposit their all-important sperms as close to the eggs as possible. And yet females can be promiscuous in the search for quality males and there are always rivals ready to seize an opportunity to mate. To counteract the danger, the males of some species go to extreme lengths to guarantee their paternity.

Male murcuri monkeys, which live in the Amazonian rain-forest, pump copious amounts of semen into the females and this coagulates into a conspicuous gelatinous plug. However, the females remain eager for sex and other males learn to winkle the plugs out before copulating. In the case of foxes and eastern grey squirrels in the USA, the females foil the males’ attempts to enforce further chastity by removing the rubbery copulatory plugs themselves within thirty seconds of mating, clearly indicating that there is a conflict between their own sexual agenda and that of the males…

The evolution of the sphragis has been one of escalating moves and counter-moves between males and females, males each attempting to gain the advantage over the other. Following insemination, males of many butterflies secrete a viscous plug that hardens and more or less seals their partner’s orifice. However, as the art of lock-picking flourished in medieval times when padlocks guarded the pudenda of love-lorn maidens, so the males of some butterflies are equipped with a pair of abdominal tweezers for extracting genital bungs, allowing them to supplant sperm from a previous partner.

The females of some species have also resisted the males’ attempts to enforce celibacy because they derive nutrients from the semen, and so for them promiscuity pays dividends in the form of bigger clutches of eggs. These females have responded to the males’ plugs by developing ‘externalized’ genitalia, surrounded by very smooth and glossy plates with the properties of teflon. During copulation, the males could not make their sexual stoppers stick and so the stage was set for the evolution of the ultimate chastity belt—the full sphragis. That of an Australian swallowtail or an apollo is virtually moulded on to and completely girdles the rear of the female’s abdomen, and can be removed only with the greatest of difficulty. Furthermore, they often bear long projections that trail beneath the body and act as a deterrent to other sexy males.

‘Sperm wars’ favour the males which indulge in protracted copulations, because these give their own gametes more time to reach the eggs. Some male crustaceans, such as crabs, keep their mates to themselves by the simple expedient of carrying them around…

Mating moths and butterflies stay tied together for a day, while male locusts often stay mounted for two. This pales into insignificance when compared with male weevils belonging to the species Rhytirrhinus surcoufi; they have been recorded as staying on the backs of their mates for a month without losing contact, thus imposing a kind of monogamy on the females.
Dirty tactics

Aedes aegypti is one of the most notorious mosquitoes in the world, because egg-bound females carry the malignant virus responsible for yellow fever throughout tropical Africa and America. Deadly though they may be, one aspect f their sex life is fascinating. Once the female Aedes has been impregnated, her drive to mate vanishes.

The males are responsible for the sudden mood swing because their semen contains an hormone which is rapidly absorbed through the vaginal walls into the female’s nervous circuitry and switches off her urge to mate. As a sexual sedative, the substance is exceptionally potent; a sample taken from one male is sufficient to make over sixty females utterly frigid.

Such are the reproductive rewards for males of being the first to impregnate females that those of a few species are genetically primed to have sex with barely mature partners…

As with the Heliconids, sex is taken into the pupal case in Orygia splendida, a moth related to the gypsy moth. The male is normal looking with a pair of pretty wings, but the female is dowdy. In fact she never really grows up, because she becomes fertile as a grub, when still imprisoned in her cocoon. Without ever emerging into the light of day, she attracts a male to her by her irresistible smell. When a male alights, his exciting body odour stimulates her to claw a hole in her cocoon, which allows him to mate. Afterwards, he flies off to find another moth Lolita, while she lays her eggs and dies without setting foot outside.

Sex takes place in the nursery even in stoats. During the summer, males are combing the countryside not only for prey, but also for nests containing young virgin stoats. On finding one, the male forcibly insinuates her, even though she protests vigorously and may well be so young that her eyes are closed.

Bizarre though such behaviour appears, it is but one of the outcomes of the fierce pressures that males are under to mate in a hurry to ensure their genes live on. The females themselves may benefit because their sons will indulge in the same behaviour and successfully propagate their genes.
Poisonous semen

Fruit-flies provide the ultimate expression of warfare between sexes—the males, in attempting to control their mates chemically, poison them while the females search frantically for antidotes. The discovery came to light when it was noticed that highly promiscuous female flies were short-lived. This was due not to the undoubted strain of egg production, but to a surfeit of sex. Further investigation revealed that the seminal fluid was the culprit leading the females to an early grave. Semen is not just a medium for transporting sperm; it is a cocktail of secretions, some of which affect the female’s behaviour, usually to the male’s benefit…

Sex has become murder. Now, to enhance his chances of fathering offspring by advancing ovulation, the male fruit-fly produces seminal fluid so ‘strong’ that is toxic and prematurely poisons the female, but not before she has laid her eggs.
Suicidal sex

For the males of species in which the females are born killers, mating is a dangerous proposition. Having delivered their sperm, some males appear to make the supreme sacrifice—and end up as meals. And yet, such suicidal tactics make sense in the context of sperm wars, especially if the males are unlikely to have more than one stab at breeding. There is little point in a male escaping with his life if his paternity is not assured. If, by committing suicide during sex, he keeps his savage partner occupied while his, and not someone else’s, gametes seek hers, the sacrifice pays off.

One in the best-known dangerous liaisons is forged by male praying mantises… The male’s body is the ultimate nuptial gift, because by consuming her partner the female is able to produce significantly more eggs. She therefore benefits from her macabre habits, but so does he—he literally gives his all and, as a consequence, fathers offspring. Male spiders always face the risk of being devoured when they consummate their courtship, but male red-backs appear to be the only ones which positively commit suicide during sex…

Other remarkable strategies have evolved which illustrate the extremes to which males will go to give their own sperm the best chance of reaching the eggs first.

red-tailed-phascogaleIn Australia, male red-tailed phascogales—small, squirrel-like carnivores—burn themselves out in an all-or-nothing quest for fatherhood. These endearing little marsupials have a short but exhausting mating season during the southern spring, which leaves the males wrecked. They are intensely territorial and supremely competitive, chasing up and down trees and racing in and out of hollows searching for females. The female phascogales are extremely shy and make the males court them energetically before submitting to prolonged and vigorous sex.

So intent are the males on finding as many targets as possible for their precious sperm that they have no time to feed during their week of frenzied sexual activity. While the freshly impregnated females retire to their nests, the knackered males rapidly succumb to a combination of infections, failed livers, gut ulcers, extensive haemorrhages and extreme weight loss. These symptoms accompany the level of their blood cortico-steroids and a catastrophic suppression of their immunological system—characteristics of severe stress.

Not one adult male survives. But 50 per cent of the females’ babies will be males and by the following spring they will be mature enough to enter the lethal sexual arena.
One battle over, another looms

The egg is now fertilized—in a split second, a new life has been initiated. This has been achieved against astronomical odds. Both the sperm and its slave, the male body which produced it [Editor’s italics] and propelled it into the female’s tract, have had to be supreme players in the most rigorous and demanding contest on earth: survival. The male has relied on countless brawling ancestors, themselves winners endowed with the skills needed to overcome both physical dangers and cut-throat competition from rivals. His sperm has passed the female’s demanding tests for quality control. Of the billions that started the race, many were deformed, most simply got lost or died of exhaustion. Of the few the lashed their way to the egg, one was victorious.

On arriving at its destination, it began a complex sequence of chemical code-breaking whereby enzymes—special proteins—in the tip of its head unlocked the egg’s surface and allowed the sperm to enter its protoplasm. In a fraction of a second, a miraculous transformation took place in the composition of the cell, enabling the egg to shut out other sperms which subsequently attempted to pierce it. Once safely inside, the sperm cast off its tail, leaving only the head, packed with the male’s genes, his sole contribution to the new offspring.

The sheer complexity of what follows defies imagination. If there be miracles, then the defining moment of one was when the hereditary instructions of both male and female were collected in the fusion egg and sperm nuclei and a new life was conceived in a flurry of membranes and rapidly dividing cells. Although it takes place on a microscopic scale, this is the key event over which the sexes have been striving to exert control.

However, the share each parent has in this new individual is already unequal—the sperm donates only its genes to the relatively massive egg. For the time being, it seems, the male has got away with the smaller down payment. But now a fresh conflict looms—over the question of parental care. The mother would prefer to go on and produce more eggs, and the father to spread his sperm around more females. Nevertheless, conception does not end the ‘costs’ of reproduction for all creatures. For many, a great deal of effort will have to be explained on caring for their offspring. And who does that is very much decided by yet another dispute between the sexes.

Published in: on October 27, 2016 at 11:30 am  Comments (1)  

War of the sexes, 3

Choosy females

Although females behave less dramatically than males, they have a very crucial hand to play in the mating game. They are not, as usually portrayed, passive recipients of male lust, but are naturally cautious and highly discriminating when deciding with which to copulate. From their point of view, all males are different and, as every female wants only the very best possible specimen to father her offspring, she plays for time while assessing the quality of what is on offer.

Females therefore go shopping for sex and males must market themselves like animated billboards to attract a customer. Lavish ornamentation often means quality, because mediocre males cannot afford the luxury of ‘expensive’ displays. By weighing up the choice of mates and choosing only the chirpiest or flashiest partners, females act as wildly imaginative artists, capable of ‘creating’, through sexual selection, males which are as breathtakingly gorgeous as they are bizarre…

Among the amphibians, male frogs woo by trilling or croaking. Male anolid lizards erect brightly coloured dewlaps, while fish tend to flourish decorative fins. Most mammals have keen noses and accordingly use seductive odours to meet up with the opposite sex. Some insects stridulate—make a chirping or scraping sound, like grasshoppers—for sex, whereas others deploy potent scent to lure mates. Emperor moths can home in from 3 kilometres (2 miles) away by following a plume of perfume which acts as both an irresistible attractant and an aphrodisiac to members of the opposite sex; in web-building spiders, the males strum a tattoo on the silken threads which their partners perceive through their feet. Fireflies emit flashes of light, certain diurnal butterflies reflect patterns of ultra-violet and electric fish communicate with each other in the murky waters where they live by discharging pulses of electrical energy. In some species, the males advertise for sex in such extravagant manner as to defy imagination—and all because they must catch the eye of a discerning female.

The blue peafowl is the largest and most spectacular of the true pheasants. In full courtship mode the male is, without a doubt, one of the wonders of nature and an eloquent testament to the creative force of sexual selection. He is nothing less than an ostentatious sexual advertisement, proclaiming with strident voice and ornate plumage that he is the best source of sperm…

But sex is not the end of this affair. Peahens are remarkably possessive of the peacock with which they have mated and, although they need to be inseminated only once to have their eggs fertilized, each female tries to monopolize his attentions by being aggressive to other hens or by actively soliciting further copulations from the male if he starts to court another. By exhausting the male’s supply of sperm, the peahen attempts to prevent him passing on his desirable characteristics to the offspring of other peahens, which will inevitable compete with her own.
Bridal bowers

Some of the most extraordinary birds to be seen in Australia and New Guinea are the dozen or so bowerbirds which rate as the landscape artists of the avian world. The fact that most native mammalian predators in Australasia are nocturnal makes it possible for the males to spend the days displaying on courts close to or on the ground, which they meticulously prepare for the purpose of sex and seduction. As they eschew parental duties and the forest provides plenty of easily obtained food, the males are able to dedicate much of their year to building and decorating their bowers.

The hens behave like connoisseurs of art, awarding their sexual favours to the owners whose works impress the most. Depending upon the species, the male bowerbirds build structures ranging from the simple avenues of twigs—like the dazzling yellow and black regent bowerbird’s—to more elaborate ones which the owners embellish with all manner of bright objects; the cock satin bowerbird even daubs the walls of his bower with ‘paint’ derived from strongly coloured berries crushed in his break.

chapter-bBut there are as nothing compared to the achievements of three gardener bowerbirds—Macgregor’s, the striped and the Vogelkop—which practise their art deep in the forests of New Guinea. These mostly brown birds, the size of a starling, are master builders, constructing out of interlocking twigs maypole-like towers up to 3 metres (10 feet) in height, and huts resembling tepees supported by internal columns with passageways connecting inner chambers. Furthermore, The birds landscape their buildings with carefully tended forecourts on which all kinds of eye-catching treasures are displayed. In the case of Macgregor’s bowerbirds, and possibly the others, decorative fruit is brought into the bower and the cache doubles up as a snack bar, allowing the cock bird to spend more time on site advertising for hens.

Although they all construct amazing bowers, Vogelkop bowerbirds—from the mountains of the western tip of Irian Jaya—produce the most extravagant exhibitions of landscape art. The male’s arena is 5-6 metres (16-20 feet) across, with his astonishing bower in the centre. This is constructed around a sapling and is completely covered in by a thatched roof which is supported internally by several pillars.

In front of the entrance is the garden, on which is meticulously arranged a variety of pretty or conspicuous objects gathered from the surrounding forest—a number of faded yellow leaves laid out in a pattern, a heap of brightly coloured berries, the iridescent wing-cases of a certain kind of beetle and fresh flowers which are changed daily before they wilt. The industry involved in maintaining such an arena must be phenomenal and yet the investment will be well worth while if the hens are impressed and allow the male to father their next broods.
Dazzling duets

Scientists working in the sweltering forests of Costa Rica claim to have discovered that female long-tailed manakins may be the fussiest females in the animal kingdom. Cock long-tailed manakins are forced to be really high-pressure salesmen; they will be chosen to mate on the basis of how well they sing in tune, shine on the dance floor and excel themselves in an extraordinary test of stamina.

These sparrow-sized birds belong to a family of forty or so exotic species which are confined mostly to South America. Second only to the incomparable humming-birds, male manakins are dazzling feathered jewels, their plumage sparkling with sky blues, brilliant reds and yellows set against the deepest velvet black. Some of their wing and tail feathers are modified for producing a variety of instrumental sounds which supplement the curious vocalizations the male utters to draw the attention of the hens.

The courtship displays are nothing short of virtuoso performances, choreographed into series of pivoting movements, mincing steps, jumps, somersaults and butterfly flights. Although the details vary from species to species, the acrobatic displays of the manakins rival those of any bird of paradise and are equally difficult to observe because they take place either in the forest canopy pr in deep cover near ground level…

Once she has made her choice, the top male signals his junior partner to make himself scarce. He then performs a solo dance in front of his admirer and then, in a flash, mounts and inseminates her. The reward for the junior male may come later—he may inherit the stage when the more experienced bird dies or vanishes, but he may have a long time to wait, because long-tailed manakins live for about fifteen years.

Almost all the hen manakins end up mating with but a handful of males. In one area with about eighty cocks, just five of them accounted for over 90 per cent of the matings over a course of ten years. So it pays to be a senior male manakins in a top performing team because such a bird is likely to be chosen by as many as fifty or sixty hens a year.

However, the cost of that achievement is considerable. It has been estimated that during his apprenticeship as a junior partner, a male will utter about 3 million ‘to-le-do’ calls and spend about 1000 hours perfecting his cartwheel routine before standing a chance of graduating to the status of a senior male.

Published in: on October 26, 2016 at 11:36 am  Comments (1)  

War of the sexes, 2

Warriors and wimps

The recurring theme of this book is that the opportunities created by sex differ from males and females. The reason of this asymmetry lies in the nature of their respective sex cells—sperm and eggs. Sperm are minuscule, biologically ‘cheap’ to manufacture, and are produced by the testes in astronomical numbers. Eggs, on the other hand, are comparatively large—small humming-birds, for instance, make eggs equivalent to 25 per cent of their body weight and packed with nutrients. Being ‘expensive’ to make, they are produced in much smaller numbers that sperm.

The consequences for the two sexes are profound. With a more or less fixed output of eggs, females cannot usually generate more offspring by taking on extra mating partners. The best option is to be careful in their choice of who fathers the young. Males have quite a different agenda. With almost unlimited supply of sperm at their disposal, the best reproductive strategy is to mate with as many females as possible, each of which will provide them with offspring.

From a male’s perspective, there are never enough females to go around and so, motivated by lust and sheer greed, each of them comes into serious competition with other philanderers. To be successful in the mating stakes, a male needs to win and win well. This rivalry manifests itself as raw aggression among the sturdy males of those species for which ‘biggest is best’. To be triumphant in battle, a male has to look like a warrior, act like a warrior—and mean it!

Competition for sex is the overriding evolutionary pressure responsible for fashioning the appearance of mature males, whether they be chest-thumping gorillas or heavily veiled fighting fish. This is because, in the struggle for supremacy, weapons and large body size have been overwhelmingly advantageous, enabling hefty, well-armed males to win more mates than feeble and less bold ones.

Over countless generations, macho males driven by their gonads have been willing to risk life and limb in order to rank among the most bountiful breeders of their kind. Such a valuable prize is always worth fighting for, and only the most pugilistic individuals stand a chance of winning—which is why the males of many species are larger and more irascible than their mates. To help them in their battle against rivals, warrior males throughout the animal kingdom have often become heavyweights, equipped with weapons enabling them to stab, ram, kick or wrestle. For those who compete for harems, the reward for being a successful male is proportionately high, and so the conflicts become that much more serious.

When a pair of bull elephant seals clash on the breeding beaches, no quarter is given. Each is a warrior fighting for the survival of his line. By far the largest of the seals, each bellowing bull is a quivering mound of flesh and blubber 6 metres (20 ft) long and weighting 3000 kilograms (6600 pounds)—five times the weight of a mature female… The combatants often tear their noses and gouge out chunks of their opponents’ skin. There is a lot at stake, and well-matched rivals do not give up easily. But inevitably, one of them backs off and awaits a further opportunity to challenge the beachmaster…

The odds are heavily stacked against the males. Fewer than one in ten become successful warriors commandeering their own stretches of the beach favoured by the females; the rest will die without issue or resort to sneaking a furtive mating here and there. Competition between the lusty males is therefore intense, and success will favour only the heaviest and most belligerent of them…
Horns and antlers

The most spectacular horns and antlers adorn the heads of the hoofed mammals. They come in an amazing array of shapes and sizes, resembling corkscrews, rapiers, daggers and meat hooks; some are tightly spiralled, others extravagantly branched. In many cases, the females are hornless…

Ibex, big-horn sheep, goats and musk oxen perform serious battering contests in which the opponents gallop towards each other and meet head on; it is a wonder that any participant survives such head-shattering impacts. The secret of their survival lies in the construction of their skulls…

Males of all kind have become embroiled in an arms race favouring those which can grow and deploy bigger weapons. The extinct Irish elk was one such species: the older stags sported a might spread of antlers that would dwarf those of modern deer. Like those of today’s warriors, such weapons are costly to grow—especially those of deer, which have to be regrown every year—and the individual has to be a very competent forager to find enough food to be able to ‘afford’ and replace them annually.

Stags sometimes sustain smashed antlers or broken legs, or are blinded in one eye. In one population, battles over rutting supremacy accounted for 20 per cent of all adult male mortality and in Germany 5 per cent of stags are killed every year through fighting. Some 10 per cent of bull musk oxen die from fractured skulls, despite the reinforced nature of their foreheads, and no less that 60 per cent of narwhals sport broken tusks or have pieces or twisted ivory buried into their flesh—doubtless all wounds uncured through fighting.
Sneaky males

The problem for most males is that they must often wait on the side-lines, sometimes for years, until they are in a position to challenge the dominant breeders—and then most will fail. In the interim, they resort to sneaky tactics. In southern fur seals, the beachmaster are typical warriors and each stakes out a territory which it defends violently from other males, creating the most vicious fights in the animal world.

The bulls aim for the vulnerable soft skin around the fore flippers, ripping huge gashes in them with their teeth. The combatants sometimes end up with horrific injuries, such as torn muzzles, dislocated jaws, missing eyes and great chunks bitten out of their pelts. At this time, the bulls appear to be immune from pain; those which have commandeered prime positions on the beach rarely stand down and they valiantly stave off challenges from neighbouring males. Many pups are crushed in the resulting mayhem on the crowded rookeries…

Several major lakes nestle in Africa’s Great Rift Valley. There are algal scrapers, leaf choppers, scale eaters, shell crushers, diggers, hunters and plankton filterers; there is even one species that survives by biting out the eyes of other fish. Many are colourful and have remarkable breeding arrangements; in Lake Tanganyika, fifteen kinds employ empty water-snail shells as receptacles for their eggs, although one, called Lamprolugus callipterus, is especially interesting. This shell-brooding cichlid holds the record of proportionately the largest males in the animal kingdom. The fully grown ones are giants, up to thirty times the size of their mates; in human terms, this is equivalent to the difference between a 80 kilogram (180-pound) man and the average newborn baby. There is a good reason for this disparity between the sexes…
Gender jumpers

So the warriors and dandies of the natural world may gain mates through brute force or low cunning. But so relentless is the drive to carry on their genetic line that the males of some species have evolved other quite astonishing ploys to maximize their breeding potential. One surpassing technique is gender jumping…

Aggression plays a key role in the life of a gender-jumping wrasse. Each territory contains a tyrannical male which firmly dominates his harem of six or more mates. Only by continually demonstrating his command over them can he prevent one of them from changing sex and usurping his position of power. When young, the small wrasse join the harems as spawning females at the bottom of the packing order and, bearing the brunt of everyone’s hostility, their masculine tendencies are suppressed. But as they grow, each has the potential to be a male. The chance to switch sex and status comes with the death of the despotic male. Within and hour or two of his disappearance, the largest and most dominant female becomes aggressive and starts to behave like the departed ‘master’, chivvying the rest of the females and defending the area against neighbouring males. Should one of them beat her into submission, her transformation will be halted. If not, within about ten days or so, ‘she’ will be irrevocably changed to a fully functioning ‘he’ and produce active sperm.

chapter-a Big and brawny, that’s the female anemone fish (left). The wimpish male just supplies sperm. When she dies, he grows, jumps gender, and lays eggs.


Small is sexy

In the vertebrates and the insects, extreme sexual dimorphism—huge differences between the two sexes—has come about because the males have evolved into weapon-bearing warriors designed for acquiring harems. However, in species in which males have opted for dedicated monogamy, the females are usually the larger sex; in some cases, the males are miniaturized. ‘Dwarf’ males are found in a variety of flatworms, nematodes, crustaceans and molluscs. In the oyster Ostrea pulchrana, the large females host the small males on their shells and may even retard their growth through some chemical influence.

Charles Darwin was aware of degenerate males when he studied barnacles… Some barnacles are parasites, bearing little resemblance to crustaceans, and with separate sexes. The vanishingly small males enter their mates as free-swimming larvae and settle inside their partners’ tissues, resembling alien parasites themselves!

In some species, once the tiny male has made contact with his mate, he bonds with her for life. His body merges with hers, even sharing her blood supply, because once the male is in situ he depends utterly upon his ogreish mate for nourishment. In the end, the male is reduced to a fleshy appendage, a blob of testis under the complete control of the gravid female.

Published in: on October 25, 2016 at 6:52 pm  Comments (1)