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Odd Couples: Extraordinary Differences Between the Sexes in the Animal Kingdom

Popular Science
One of American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Books for General Audiences and Young Adults 2014

By: Daphne J Fairbairn (Author)

300 pages, 16 plates with 17 colour photos; 5 b/w photos, 12 b/w illustrations, 7 tables

Princeton University Press

Paperback | Aug 2015 | #224524 | ISBN-13: 9780691169781
Availability: Usually dispatched within 5 days Details
NHBS Price: £13.95 $17/€16 approx
Hardback | May 2013 | #203577 | ISBN-13: 9780691141961
Availability: In stock
Clearance price: £10.97 £19.95 (Save £8.98) $13/€12 approx

About this book

While we joke that men are from Mars and women are from Venus, our gender differences can't compare to those of other animals. For instance: the male garden spider spontaneously dies after mating with a female more than fifty times his size. Female cichlids must guard their eggs and larvae – even from the hungry appetites of their own partners. And male blanket octopuses employ a copulatory arm longer than their own bodies to mate with females that outweigh them by four orders of magnitude. Why do these gender gulfs exist?

Introducing readers to important discoveries in animal behavior and evolution, Odd Couples explores some of the most extraordinary sexual differences in the animal world. From the fields of Spain to the deep oceans, evolutionary biologist Daphne Fairbairn uncovers the unique and bizarre characteristics – in size, behavior, ecology, and life history – that exist in these remarkable species and the special strategies they use to maximize reproductive success. Fairbairn describes how male great bustards aggressively compete to display their gorgeous plumage and large physiques to watching, choosey females. She investigates why female elephant seals voluntarily live in harems where they are harassed constantly by eager males. And she reveals why dwarf male giant seadevils parasitically fuse to their giant female partners for life. Fairbairn also considers humans and explains that although we are keenly aware of our own sexual differences, they are unexceptional within the vast animal world.

Looking at some of the most amazing creatures on the planet, Odd Couples sheds astonishing light on what it means to be male or female in the animal kingdom.

"Balancing descriptive natural history with probing evolutionary biology, Fairbairn (Sex, Size & Gender Roles, coeditor), professor of biology at the University of California Riverside, examines eight striking cases of extreme size differences between males and females of the same species [...] The conclusion she draws from this amazing diversity is as profound as it is simple: 'there is no "normal" or "typical" pattern of sexual differentiation across the animal kingdom."
Publishers Weekly

"I found reading the book like taking a holiday in a foreign land with an enthusiastic and expert guide. You will come back with good stories, and a new appreciation of the amazing diversity of life on Earth and the forces shaping it."
– Suzanne Alonzo, Nature

"I understand much more about these creatures now that I've read this lively new book [...] [L]ike all of the examples in this fine book, it's far from a traditional marriage."
– Laurence A. Marschall, Natural History

"Such insights into the lives of animals are what makes Odd Couples so enjoyable, and Fairbairn always takes an evolutionist-eye view to try to understand them."
– Kate Douglas, New Scientist

"When we discuss gender roles, we tend to think only of a narrow range of species conforming to our preconceptions about dominant men and domestic women. Fairbairn explodes these preconceptions [...] [F]ascinating reading."
– Danielle Clode, Australian

"The author has thought deeply about this topic and writes clearly about the many influences and consequences of sexual and natural selection and how they impinge upon reproductive fitness for different animal lineages. An utterly fascinating book that will change how you think about sexual differences."
– GrrlScientist

Library Journal

"[A]n amazing story [...] [A]n easy and enjoyable read [...] It is ambitious, it is an excellent natural history chronicle and it is a nice encyclopedia of sexual differences. Overall, a good one for the library."
– D. J. Hosken, Current Biology

"Looking at some of the most amazing creatures on the planet, Odd Couples sheds astonishing light on what it means to be male or female in the animal kingdom."
Northeastern and Southeastern Naturalist

"[T]his accessible volume is well organized, and its impressive helpings of technical details never impede readability."
– Adrian Barnett, BBC Wildlife Magazine

"In observing the differences between genders, Darwin proposed both individual and natural selection. In this well-written, fascinating volume, Fairbairn explores how the two kinds of selection work to produce the 'odd couples' of the title [...] [Odd Couples] should appeal to lay and professional readers alike."

"Odd Couples is a very informative and enjoyable book for anyone interested in animal life history [...] I can recommend it for any interested naturalist whether professional or nonprofessional."
– Roger D. Applegate, Canadian Field Naturalist

"Be prepared to be entertained and fascinated by this stimulating and provocative book. It is certain to spark your curiosity. Fairbairn lakes us on a romp through the animal kingdom [...] This book provides ample incentive for continued investigations."
– Ann Hedrick, Ecology

"Odd Couples present[s] a fun and enlightening plunge into the natural history of some very exceptional animals, along with an authoritative and accessible summary of current evolutionary theory on sex differences."
– Robert Cox, Reports of the National Center for Science Education

"Daphne Fairbairn has written an engaging and fascinating book [...] The well-written text flows nicely. Lay readers will enjoy natural history descriptions; discussions of fitness and Darwinian selection will [...] appeal to professional biologists for whom this book is an excellent model of clear scientific writing."

"If you want to find out why adult male elephant seals can weigh more than four times as much as an adult female, whereas female blanket octopuses are truly enormous compared to their tiny male partners, this fascinating book is for you. Daphne Fairbairn not only introduces us to some exceptional animals but she also provides evolutionary explanations for why males are much larger (or much smaller) than females of their species. A great topic and a great read for layperson and biologist alike."
– John Alcock, author of Animal Behavior: An Evolutionary Approach

"Odd couples indeed! Fairbairn takes us on a journey through oceans, grasslands, beaches, and backyards, plunging us into the worlds of nature's most weird and wonderful creatures, all to answer one question: why are males and females different? By tackling extremes – such as male octopuses forty thousand times lighter than their mates, and parasitic male seadevils who fuse themselves to the bellies of females – she deftly illustrates how a common set of concepts can connect them all. A thoroughly enjoyable read."
– Doug Emlen, coauthor of Evolution: Making Sense of Life

"A fascinating natural history account of some extreme and unfamiliar examples of sexual differences among animals. A real eye-opener."
– Mark Elgar, University of Melbourne

"This unique, ambitious, and engaging book educates general readers about animal behavior, physiology, life history, and evolution using sex differences as its theme. Quite an achievement and a pleasure to read."
– Allen J. Moore, University of Georgia


Chapter 1: Introduction 1
Chapter 2: The Roots of Sexual Differences: Why Male and Female Animals Differ 9
Chapter 3: Elephant Seals: Harems, Hierarchies, and Giant Males 23
Chapter 4: Great Bustards: Gorgeous Males and Choosy Females 46
Chapter 5: Shell-Carrying Cichlids: Protective Males and Furtive Females 64
Chapter 6: Yellow Garden Spiders: Sedentary Females and Roving Males 81
Chapter 7: Blanket Octopuses: Drifting Females and Dwarf Males 104
Chapter 8: Giant Seadevils: Fearsome Females and Parasitic Males 116
Chapter 9: Bone-Eating Worms: Female Tubeworms with Harems of Minuscule Males 133
Chapter 10: Shell-Burrowing Barnacles: Sac-Like Females with Harems of Phallic Males 147
Chapter 11: The Diversity of Sexual Differences: Differences between Males and Females across the Animal Kingdom 160
Chapter 12: Concluding Remarks 187

Acknowledgments 195
Appendix A: Scientific Names Corresponding to Common Names Used in the Text 197
Appendix B: Summary of Sexual Dimorphisms by Animal Phylum 203
Notes 207
Glossary of Technical Terms 239
Sources 247
Illustration Credits 287
Index 289

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Daphne J. Fairbairn is professor of biology at the University of California, Riverside. She has written widely on the science of sexual differences and is the coeditor of Sex, Size, and Gender Roles.

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