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Marty Crump – Headless Males Make Great Lovers

August 10, 2011

97. Headless Males Make Great Lovers: And Other Unusual Natural Histories by Marty Crump (2007)

Length: 216 pages
Genre: Non-Fiction, Science

Started: 24 June 2011
Finished: 23 July 2011

Where did it come from? Purchased from the publisher.
Why do I have it? I really enjoyed Crump’s memoir In Search of the Golden Frog, plus I’m a sucker for a good pop-sci book, and it looked like fun.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 25 August 2008.

If slugs were writing
books, our mating behavior
would seem weird to them.

Summary: In Headless Males Make Great Lovers, Marty Crump sets out to give her readers a peek into the crazy world of natural history – that is, the study of how animals live their lives. She breaks it down into five broad categories: mating behavior, parental behavior, predation, protection, and communication, and covers such examples as male salamanders using fang-like protrusions on their jaw to directly inject pheromones into the female to make her receptive to mating; frogs that store their eggs in their vocal sacs and then belch up their tadpoles once they’ve hatched; and deep-sea anglerfish where a male will bite on to a much larger female, and hang on until she’s ready to lay her eggs… which may take months.

Review: I’ve been a sucker for natural history factoids ever since my parents first got me my first subscription to Zoobooks; the stuff that some animal species do in the daily course of living is so crazy, so bizzare, and so completely foreign to our own experience that it tops the strangest things a sci-fi novelist could hope to dream up. So, despite the fact that I already knew about a lot of what Crump was writing about (and in fact was spotting places where I thought she missed an opportunity to introduce some neat relevant trivia tidbits), this book was still like candy to me. And personally, one of the best parts was that Crump actually presented some examples that I hadn’t heard of, and I learned some things I didn’t know before – like the fact that baby kangaroos spend their first four months continuously attached to a nipple in their mom’s pouch, or that rattlesnakes can shed and re-grow their fangs, or that dung beetles in India bury 50,000 tons of human waste per day! So cool!

While this book is definitely aimed at people who agree with me that that sort of thing is cool, not gross (well, okay, kind of gross), it’s not geared exclusively towards scientists. Crump is very good at keeping her science accessible to the layperson without talking down to her readers or sacrificing accuracy, and the prose is bright and clean and easy to read. I realize it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but I think the fact that I had a fun time reading it, even when I already knew about the salamanders or the fish or whatever, speaks pretty highly in its favor. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Not exclusive to scientists, I think this would be fun for anyone with more than a passing interest in natural history: zoo- and museum-goers, Discovery Channel watchers, National Geographic subscribers, etc.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: Zoologists are a curious lot.

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15 Comments leave one →
  1. August 10, 2011 11:15 am

    This sounds really interesting! Thanks for the review!

  2. August 10, 2011 3:47 pm

    You’ve made this sound very appealing! I’m sure I could learn a lot from it.

    • August 15, 2011 10:12 am

      Kathy – It’s a fun read, and I think Crump’s writing is really accessible.

  3. August 10, 2011 5:50 pm

    Oh, man, Zoobooks. I loved those, especially the ones about the big cats. I have to stop myself from heading into our local Education Station and picking out a bunch. Weirdly enough, I loved the way they smelled; I don’t think I’ve encountered any magazine that smelled like that.

    • August 15, 2011 10:14 am

      Omni – The thing I remember most was the full-page painting of how much food an elephant consumes in a day. (or year? anyways.) I don’t remember a particular smell, but next time I visit my parents (which is where my Zoobooks collection still lives) you can bet I’ll be up in the storage closet huffing some magazines, to see if they’ve still got it twenty years later. :-D

  4. August 10, 2011 7:49 pm

    This sounds fantastic! I love random animal factoids. One of the things I’ll miss about teaching preschool is teaching science. The kids loved learning stuff about animals! It’s too bad I didn’t come across this book a year ago! I totally would have shared (some) of the info with my students.

    Do you ever read picture books? You might like Steve Jenkins’ work. He writes and illustrates some of the best nonfiction picture books I’ve ever read, and they’re all about animals. Rather than focus on individual species his books take on a topic (like habitat, coloring, size, etc) and explore different animals and their traits. Lots of great factoids in them (most of which you probably already know!). I’m a big Steve Jenkins fan :)

    • August 15, 2011 10:19 am

      Emily – I don’t think I could deal with preschoolers all day every day – more power to you! – but I do like doing science volunteering/outreach now and again. Kids that age that are interested in science are so much fun!

      I actually do have one of Steve Jenkins’ books – one of my friends got me a collection of the year’s best science-based children’s books for Christmas a few years ago – and I was duly impressed!

  5. August 11, 2011 6:34 pm

    Animals! That explains it. It sounds like an entertainingly educational book.

    • August 15, 2011 10:21 am

      Carrie – Ha! Yes, animals. Although I suppose you could use a similar title for a zombie romance novel? (Although, ew, zombies = not romantic.)

  6. August 11, 2011 10:21 pm

    I wonder which species prefers headless males? I’m thinking a female praying mantis but not sure.

    • August 15, 2011 10:24 am

      Sharry – Yup, mantids! Although there are a number of spiders (not just the black widow) that practice sexual cannibalism as well… including some species where the male actually flips his body around in front of the female’s mouthparts specifically so that she’ll eat him.

  7. August 14, 2011 3:39 am

    Your recommendation sounds like a portrait of me. My heart as always been torn between art history and natural history and this is absolutely a book I need. Thanks you for this fantastic suggestion!

    • August 15, 2011 10:26 am

      kay – Hooray! If you haven’t read Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation yet (I can’t remember if I’ve recommended this to you before), that is also a book you absolutely need. It’s natural history factoids disguised as a sex advice column, where the letters all come from slugs, turtles, sea anemones, etc., and it’s totally brilliant.

  8. August 17, 2011 7:21 pm

    I taught preschool for only 4.5 years, but it felt like an eternity! It definitely was tough doing it all day long.

    Glad you’ve read Steve Jenkins! I just created a “Staff Recommendations” shelf in the children’s room at the library I now work at for the sole purpose of displaying his work :) Well, that and other great stuff, too.

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