The Birds and the Bees
Illustration by Marek Raczkowski

The Birds and the Bees

Sex in the Natural World
Mikołaj Golachowski
time 15 minutes

On meadows, in bushes, under water and up trees – nature is seething with desire.

In one of his poems, Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote of nature that it is “red in tooth and claw”, and this phrase became a popular symbol of the Darwinian fight for survival as the ruthless principle of evolution. I dare not presume what it really is that nature drips with, but – although the vision of bloody animal struggle excites the imagination – its role can be overestimated. Constant battle is less important in the natural world than love. Not necessarily lyrical love – very much the bodily kind. Or, to put it bluntly, sex.

Of course, combat and love interweave throughout nature. As another saying goes, all is fair in love and war. However, the latter is more frequently in service of the former than the other way around. Animals and plants often fight for partners, but even the strongest fighter won’t get very far in the evolutionary conflict if it can’t pass on its warrior’s genes. This conditions most animal behaviour, directly or indirectly. The aim is that copies of our genes – even if they don’t come directly from us, but from our close relatives – must survive and multiply in the gene pool of future generations.

Somebody pollinate me!

I have never been to a biology lab, on any continent, that didn’t have at least one Gary Larson drawing on the wall. Naturalists love him; he’s a biology graduate with a unique sense of humour who wrote a children’s book that I still consider to be the best introduction into the functioning of ecosystems: There’s a Hair in My Dirt! The book tells the story of a family of earthworms. While at dinner (of course, the characters are eating dirt, as earthworms would), a disgusted son loudly announces his revolting discovery. Dad earthworm then explains how a long blond hair would have found its way into their soil, at the same time giving a concise and engaging explanation of the flow of matter and many other natural phenomena. For now, however, the most important fragment for us is the one in which Harriet – the former owner


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My Gaia
A collage. Photo by NASA

My Gaia

Our Mother Earth
Mikołaj Golachowski

Sometimes we talk about her with affection, like the poet Edward Stachura, who sang that she is “carrying, carrying her lovely hunch.” Sometimes, we use more pathos, which seems more appropriate, and call her Mother Earth.

We first saw the Earth in the famous photo Earthrise taken in December 1968 by William Anders, who participated in the Apollo 8 flight. Although it wasn’t the first ever photograph of our planet, it was the first colour one, which made it possible for us to notice how its vivid colours contrast with the grey and lifeless surface of the moon. In this picture, the Earth looks beautiful and fragile. I saw with my own eyes how huge it is during my first voyage to Antarctica.

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