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Ask Dr. Tatiana

Air Date: Week of

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Sure, there’s the birds and the bees, but what about the green spoon worm and the moth ear mite? In the book "Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice To All Creation," author Olivia Judson takes on any and all questions about sex in the animal kingdom.


CURWOOD: And you’re listening to NPR’s Living on Earth.

The animal kingdom is rife with tales of jealousy, promiscuity, and incestuous affairs. From the humble slime mold, to the veracious lioness, mating strategies range from the bizarre, to the downright dangerous. Now, there’s a Dr. Ruth of the animal world to answer questions about sex and the wild.

Olivia Judson is author of the book, "Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice To All Creation," the definitive guide to the evolutionary biology of sex. Among the creatures she counsels is the small green spoon worm.

JUDSON: "Dear Dr. Tatiana: There’s been a frightful accident. I was happily sitting in my usual spot at the bottom of the sea when I felt an itch on my nose. Being a green spoon worm--I don’t have arms, and I couldn’t scratch-- so I sniffed, and I inhaled my husband. I tried sneezing, but he hasn’t reappeared. Is there anything I can do to get him back? From: Too much heavy breathing near Malta."

CURWOOD (LAUGHING): Well, what happened here?

JUDSON: Well, it’s a wonderful story. The green spoon worm has one of the largest known size differences between male and female. The male is actually 200,000 times smaller than the female. It’s as if a human male were no larger than the eraser on the end of a pencil. And whether or not you become a male or female green spoon worm depends on whether you meet a female during your first three weeks of life.

So, if you’re traveling through the seas and you happen to meet a female, then you will become male and you will spend your whole life in her reproductive tract fertilizing eggs, regurgitating sperm through your mouth. If you fail to meet a female, then you will settle on the sea floor, and you will become female yourself, and you will grow to be large organism that tries to attract little, minute husbands.

CURWOOD: Dr. Tatiana, where are some of the more bizarre places that animals choose to procreate?

JUDSON: Well, one of the most peculiar animals that I came across is the moth ear mite. What happens is, a mite waits on a flower for a moth to come and drink, then it climbs up the moth’s tongue, crawls across the head and into the ear, and then it pierces the tympanic membrane which is what allows the moth to hear. So, at that point, the moth goes deaf. And then the mite lays eggs, and the brother and sister mites copulate with each other. It’s a mad, incestuous orgy all going on with the inner ear of the moth.

And, indeed, some of the same sort of thing may go on in humans. Humans have mites that live in their eyelash follicles, and they are certainly copulating within the eyelash follicle.

CURWOOD: What example in the animal world do you think humans can learn the most from?

DR. TATIANA: If you sort of say, "Well, what animal would it be most fun to be if sexual gratification were what you were after," I think I’d go for the dolphin. The Atlantic bottlenose dolphin has been recorded trying to have sex with sharks, turtles, seals, eels, and even the occasional human. I think that dolphins will be my vote for the most sexually liberated organism.

CURWOOD: Olivia Judson is author of "Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice To All Creation."

Dr. Tatiana, thanks for taking this time with me today.

DR. TATIANA: Thank you very much, indeed.

CURWOOD: For more about an insect that just can’t get enough, go to our website at loe.org.
To hear our extended interview with Dr. Tatiana, click here.



"Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation"


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