Richard O. Prum: The Evolution of Beauty

After reading Prum’s close observations of animal sexual activities, I have a different perspective on ducks. Lady ducks, I have tremendous respect for you. Stay strong and away from the rapists. Male ducks, if I ever catch you gang-rape a female duck, I will turn you into my blood soup (tiết canh). All joking aside, this book is a compelling scientific study of the evolution of animal sexuality and how it teaches us about our own sexuality. Let’s face it. Appearance matters. Female birds and ducks choose attractive mates to give them the best offsprings. Male Bowerbirds have to create beautiful bowers in order to get the female Bowerbirds to lek. As for the Great Argus, his only job is to make love. After that, the female takes over the responsibility of giving birth and raising the children. Wouldn’t men want to be Bowerbirds? This book is so fascinating that I read almost nonstop in the past two nights. Now I can’t get the image of the duck penis out of my head. A must-read for anyone interested in the science and beauty of sex.

Some notes

On duck rapes (p.157):

Forced copulations are pervasively common in many species of ducks, which might suggest that there’s something routine and ordinary about them, but they are also violent, ugly, dangerous, and even deadly. Female ducks are conspicuous in resisting them and will attempt to fly or swim away from their attackers; if they do not manage to escape, they mount vigorous struggles to try to repel their attackers. This can be extraordinarily difficult to do, because in many duck species forced copulation is often socially organized. Groups of males travel together and attack a single female in a form of gang rape. By attacking her in concert, males increase the chance that one of them will be able to overcome her resistance, and thwart her mate’s attempts to defend her, than if they acted alone.

The cost to females of forced copulations is very high. Females are often injured, and not infrequently killed in the process.

On duck penis (p.161):

Alternatively, [Kevin] McCracken also hypothesized that the male somehow uses his superlong penis to remove the sperm of the other competing males from the female’s reproductive tract.