Archive for the ‘opinionator’ category

Recommended reading? Dr Tatiana, oops…Olivia Judson!

6 January 2011

Olivia Judson giving advice to a love-lorn jewel beetle.

My penchant for bemoaning the paucity of good nature writing is well-known to readers of what I post. So when I come across good stuff, it’s just right that I let you all know.

A few days ago, I had recommended the butterfly articles of Peter Smetacek of Bhimtal. Now I have something different – well-crafted science writing on matters biological by Olivia Judson.

The author blurbs tell us that Olivia Judson is more than a science writer,  she has a bachelor of science degree from Stanford and a doctorate from Oxford. An evolutionary biologist and award-winning science journalist who has been published in The Economist, Nature, Science, and The Guardian, among other publications, Judson is a research fellow at Imperial College in London (UK) where she studies evolution. Judson’s weekly column in the New York Times is where I’m pointing you at.

But there’s more. Judson is nothing less than the author of what Richard Dawkins called “winningly sophisticated zoological comedy.” I am referring to Judson’s landmark book :

Dr Tatiana’s Sex Advice to all Creation – The Definitive Guide to the Evolutionary Biology of Sex

From what I have read it’s absolutely hilarious and I just cant wait to get hold of my copy.

One reviewer writes :

Creating an alter ego, Dr, Tatiana, who’s a sex advice columnist to the animal world, Olivia Judson offers numerous fascinating examples of the myriad bizarre and entertaining ways in which bugs, fish, birds, and mammals (and a few other things) procreate.  The format of the book, with her answering nervous letters from various creatures, is derived from a column she wrote for The Economist in 1997 and it allows her to keep the discussion light and sometimes very funny.  Here’s an example, included in slightly different form in the book, that appeared in that original essay:

Dear Dr Tatiana,

I am worried. All my lovers leave their genitals inside me and then drop dead. Is this normal?

Dr Tatiana replies…

WITHOUT even looking at your picture, I can tell that you are a queen bee. Unfortunately, dear, your partners plug you on purpose. Their explosive acts of heroism are fatal but fruitless attempts to prevent other males from consummating your nuptial flight. If their efforts ever cause a problem for you, I suggest that you enlist—between each tryst—your many sisters to clean you up and remove any detritus.

Is your case normal? Well, although it is extreme, it is by no means unique. In the sexual wars, plugs, cements and glues to clog up the female reproductive tract have evolved repeatedly. Leaving the genitals behind is just an unusual variation of this male ploy. Life gets even kinkier,
in fact. In a species of spiny-headed worm, males use their cements on each other, trying to gum up their rivals.

Still not satisfied? Here’s a sample from Dr Tatiana’s website. Be sure to check out the Economist link I gave you above! Enjoy! Better still get the book and read it, as I plan to do. Who says science needs to be boring?


  • Olivia Judson with beetle : from Sandwalk, under “fair use”, click image to reach source.
  • Dr Tatiana’s sex advice to all creation : Dr Tatiana website, under “fair use”, click image to reach source.