A QUEER AND DELICATE SHAPE PT. 1- SEXUAL DIVERSITY IN ANIMALS AND NATURE
BEFORE BEGINNING TO READ THIS PAPER, I WOULD JUST LIKE YOU TO KNOW THAT MUCH OF THE INFORMATION CONTAINED WITHIN WAS TAKEN FROM THE WORK OF STANFORD PROFESSOR JOAN ROUGHGARDEN. FOR A MORE COMPREHENSIVE ACCOUNT OF SEXUAL DIVERSITY IN NATURE, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE READ HER BOOK NATURE´S RAINBOW .
A QUEER AND DELICATE SHAPE PT. 1
In Darwin’s origin of the species, the god of evolutionary science outlines that throughout nature, mating occurs largely between “coy” females and “aggressive” males and that evolution will eliminate any trait which does not lend itself to the individual animal’s fitness (or it’s chances of reproducing.) Darwin states that
“males of almost all animals have stronger passions than females.” (3) whereas with females he claims that “the female… with the rarest of exceptions is less eager than the male… she is coy.” (3) It is largely believed by the scientific community that this is because female reproductive output (carrying a pregnancy to term, possibly rearing the young) has a higher fitness cost than with males, and so females must be more selective than males when it comes to selecting a mate. Many members of the scientific community also believe that in sexual selection males should be more promiscuous, mating with as many females as possible, because this will increase their fitness, and females should conversely be more coy because of their greater reproductive output. (1) Darwin also states. “Females choose mates who are more attractive.. vigorous and well armed just as man can give beauty to his male poultry.” (3) For someone not familiar with Darwin this might sound very odd. well what does this mean? What Darwin was suggesting was that it is in the females’ interest to have competition between males, based on ornaments (things like peacock feathers, which are only present in the male) and armaments (things like antlers on deer and various undulates,which can be used in physical competition for mates) which determine genetic fitness. It is in the females best interest to have these competitions because in this way she can determine which male has the best genes so that her fitness is increased by having offspring that is stronger and healthier. This hetero normative passionate male, coy female model for sexuality has been adopted so readily by our culture from biology classes to super market magazines. However, what it doesn’t take into account is the importance of the survival of oneself and one’s offspring in relation to fitness and the conditions that a species exists under outside of it’s reproductive habits. One major clue to the complicated nature of sexual selection, the antlers or “armaments” of a buck which allegedly only exist to engage other males in conflict over mates, also function as parabolic reflectors that increase the buck’s ability to hear. Although the primary function of the antlers has to do with mate choice, it also has a secondary function which is also valuable to fitness in a seemingly less direct way.
Many animals couldn’t ever fit into the darwinian model because they simply don’t exist within this male/female sex binary. Some organisms, like dandelions, reproduce asexually. Even some bigger organisms are asexual or at least partially asexual. The mighty Komodo dragon, for example, does not need to have sexual intercourse to reproduce, and can simply begin the process of generating eggs using their own genetic tissue. Although a female Komodo dragon might prefer to find a mate to sire her offspring, if one does not make himself available than she will just say the hell with it and begin producing eggs using only her genetic material. (5) Many species of gecko are asexual. Little did you know that the Geico mascot is probably female and is capable of reproducing without extra genetic material. A few other organisms capable of reproducing asexually are grasshoppers, dandelions, moths, and even some turkeys. (2) Other species are intersex, possessing both two different size gametes. Plants in general are both male and female, possessing both pollen (relatively similar to sperm) and ovules (relatively similar to eggs). Many animals such as starfish and snails posses both male and female gametes simultaneously. The Leopard slug, an organism native to Europe and the east coast of America, mates by entwining itself with it’s partner as they hang from a tree branch on a thin line of mucus. They then extend there sexual members, large brilliant blue translucent organs located on the sides of their heads, and then the two slugs will connect them in a flower-like form. Leopard slug mating is not only one of the most aesthetically stunning and awe inducing mating processes in the animal kingdom; it is also one of the most queer. When the leopard slugs unite organs, they are passing male genetic data to one another. Both slugs will become pregnant, and both will lay eggs. (6)