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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Who says Natural History Museums are boring and stuffy?

Get your tickets while you can -- if you happen to be anywhere near London in the coming months.

The Natural History Museum just opened a new (limited time) exhibit called: Sexual Nature.  Here is a promo from the Museum's web site (you need to imagine this with an English accent):
"Anything goes in the animal kingdom, so leave your preconceptions at the door and undress the science of sex in this stimulating exhibition.
Explore sexual selection and different mating systems as you encounter fascinating Museum specimens, live creatures and witness dramatic BBC wildlife footage and other revealing films. The exhibition contains specimens and specially commissioned exhibits that have never been on public display before."
I will admit laughed out loud when an imaginary voice in my head (that sounded rather like John Cleese) said "stimulating exhibition." But in all seriousness this sounds like an incredibly cool exhibition!  Among the exhibits:

It's the way that you do it
"From buxom blossoms and flamboyant feathers to awesome antlers and barbed penises, the tools of seduction and reproduction are endless. You'll learn about many bizarre sexual techniques in the animal world."

And if you were wondering how hedgehogs manage the reproductive act (a prickly situation to be sure).....

Bridled passion
"Three specially-commissioned specimen displays of mating foxes, rabbits and these hedgehogs are sure to cause a stir. The male hedgehog is an example of a creature that uses a vaginal plug in sex to prevent other male conquests of his mate. His semen sets solid inside the female while the sperm swim to victory. Hedgehogs have to take special care when copulating."

For the voyeur in all of us (c'mon, be honest!)...

Mating couples on camera
"The exhibition gallery is adorned with sepia and black-and-white images depicting animals in sexual congress like this one. Large film screen panels project close-up footage of mating displays among birds, animals and insects. Some of these displays may raise eyebrows."

May raise eyebrows?  Even mine are somewhere above my hairline and I've seen a lot of things in my day!

Remember what I was saying in my last post about females holding the keys to male reproductive success?  Sometimes they get so bossy about it they grow a penis!  Ok, not technically, but the museum has completely stolen my thunder in an upcoming post I had intended to write about female hyenas. Phooey.

She’s the boss
"Discover the species where females take the lead. Did you know female hyenas have extended genitals that have evolved to look like a penis and testicles? And the female spotted hyena actually leads the pack, rather than her smaller male counterpart."

Now I know what you are thinking: "Just hold it right there Mister!" because you are no doubt envisioning throngs of school children roaming through this tawdry exhibit on a Tuesday morning field trip. Fortunately the museum has produced a "Sexual Nature Content Guide" for parents and guardians. A good read for all concerned citizens.

In all seriousness, this is a unique and fascinating event that should appeal to anybody interested in the secret lives of animals (including the human animal!).  It will run from 11 February to 02 October of this year.  I may skip across the Pond myself and have a peep.  Ticket prices are Adult £8, Child and concessions £4, Family £21. Free to Members, Patrons and children aged 3 and under.  Although you might want to leave the latter with the sitter.

If you would like to read more about the exhibition, an excellent article appeared in the U.K. Daily Mail today by zoologist Dr. George McGavin.  There are also a number of great books in my Amazon Store that discuss animal reproductive behavior from a more scholarly perspective.

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