Sex In The Wild: The Cliffnotes

Jul 22, 2014

Credit dicktay2000 via Flickr CC

Dr. Joy Reidenberg caught us up on the new PBS series she hosts, Sex in the Wild. She brought some crazy stories and fun facts with her, the best of which we’ve compiled here. We’ll add a quick warning: Dr. Reidenberg doesn’t shy away from the action, but she encourages every age group to learn as much about nature as possible, even the birds and the bees (even though those two animals don’t make the cut for the series).

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Elephants: Elephants have very strong family bonds, which manifest in protective instincts. But despite that tenderness towards the young, elephant mating is a pretty public affair.

All of the other elephants are standing around watching the whole thing happen and in fact they’re not just watching it, they’re actually advertising it to any other male that might be in the area, so as soon as the two that are involved in the mating begin to mate, you’ve got all the other animals starting to trumpet very loudly and making a whole big pandemonium scene, basically saying “hey, if you’re out there and you want to mate, now’s your time because she’s ready and we’ve got one here but if you think you’re better, you’d better head this way! 

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Kangaroos: Most people know about the pouch kangaroos keep their babies – joeys – tucked into, but what about the fact that they’re perpetually pregnant? Sure, they’re marsupials, which means that the fetus only spends a short time in the uterus before delivery, when it crawls up into its mom’s pouch, but still. Perpetually pregnant?

This little creature is actually the size of a jelly bean. So they’re giving birth to a tiny little thing…they’re getting all their nutrition by breast-feeding, in a pouch where you can basically open up the pouch and check on it. So if there’s anything going wrong, you could go in there and fix it. But that also means that if times get rough for these animals, like if there’s no food around, they can actually pull that baby out and perform a self-abortion. And I know that’s hard for people to hear, but that’s the natural way. That way the mother can survive, until times are better in the desert. And then what happens is that she’s got another baby waiting in suspended animation, inside her uterus waiting to be delivered.

And if one baby in the pouch and one in the uterus isn’t enough, kangaroos will sometimes have a third baby that pokes its head in every once in a while for some milk.

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Dolphins: Dolphins have had to adjust their methods of reproduction for mating underwater and at high speeds. Unlike land animals, they can’t use gravity to their advantage – they have a weightless environment and males have to hold their breathe while remaining inverted under the female. Plus, here's this little nugget:

Whales and dolphins have a penis that’s actually hidden inside the body until they need it. Because, if the penis was sticking out of the body like it does on other mammals, they wouldn’t be very streamlined, it would be very hard for them to swim in the water with all of that friction…But that means that when they’re ready to mate they have to extend it, but that requires an ability to extend it instantly because they only have a few seconds to perform the mating act while they’re swimming at high speed. So really what we’re dealing with is a spring-loaded penis.

Let that sink in for a minute, then click here to hear the full interview with Dr. Joy Reidenberg, comparative anatomist and host of Sex in the Wild.