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Headless Males Make Great Lovers

And Other Unusual Natural Histories

With Illustrations by Alan Crump
The natural world is filled with diverse—not to mention quirky and odd—animal behaviors. Consider the male praying mantis that continues to mate after being beheaded; the spiders, insects, and birds that offer gifts of food in return for sex; the male hip-pocket frog that carries his own tadpoles; the baby spiders that dine on their mother; the beetle that craves excrement; or the starfish that sheds an arm or two to escape a predator’s grasp.

Headless Males Make Great Lovers and Other Unusual Natural Histories celebrates the extraordinary world of animals with essays on curious creatures and their amazing behaviors. In five thematic chapters, Marty Crump—a tropical field biologist well known for her work with the reproductive behavior of amphibians—examines the bizarre conduct of animals as they mate, parent, feed, defend themselves, and communicate. Crump’s enthusiasm for the unusual behaviors she describes-from sex change and free love in sponges to aphrodisiac concoctions in bats-is visible on every page, thanks to her skilled storytelling, which makes even sea slugs, dung beetles, ticks, and tapeworms fascinating and appealing. Steeped in biology, Headless Males Make Great Lovers points out that diverse and unrelated animals often share seemingly bizarre behaviors—evidence, Crump argues, that these natural histories, though outwardly weird, are successful ways of living.

Illustrated throughout, and filled with vignettes of personal and scientific interest, Headless Males Make Great Lovers will enchant the general reader with its tales of blood-squirting horned lizards and intestine-ejecting sea cucumbers—all in the service of a greater appreciation of the diversity of the natural histories of animals.

Read an excerpt.

212 pages | 108 line art, 1 table | 6 x 9 | © 2006

Biological Sciences: Behavioral Biology, Natural History, Physiology, Biomechanics, and Morphology


“Zoologists collect nature stories. We pull them out like worn bandannas at field-site campfires and conference socials, keeping lecture-hall sleepers awake. We hone our favorites to their finest edge and listen to those told by the masters, hoping to learn something new. Now there is an entire book of such inspiration in Marty Crump’s Headless Males Make Great Lovers. With short, descriptive sentences, Crump paints an impressionistic portrait of five fundamental aspects of animal existence: mating, parenting, feeding, self-defense, and communication. Stepping easily between her subjects as if they were golden frogs, Crump weaves together natural history, poetry, mythology, family memories, and good humor with appropriate amounts of drama and distance. Each chapter begins with the intriguing, moves to the bizarre, and ends with the most spectacular examples of animal lore, seasoned with experiences from academia, personal friendships, and an elegant grasp of evolutionary and behavioral biology. Regardless of one’s background, there is space at this campfire for all.”

Stephen M. Shuster, coauthor of Mating Systems and Strategies

“Marty Crump has an unerring eye for bizarre and perplexing aspects of natural history.  She writes with great zest, using her carefully selected examples to show how natural selection has shaped all aspects of animal biology. With great clarity, she explains how even the strangest phenomena conform to the basic, simple laws of nature. This book is a bravura performance, based on a lifetime of careful observation of the earth’s fast-vanishing biodiversity.” —Tim Halliday, coeditor of Firefly Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians

Tim Halliday

 “From penis-gnawing slugs to tadpole-transporting frogs, Marty Crump’s Headless Males Make Great Lovers captivates readers with remarkable stories about animals and their bizarre behaviors. With examples ranging from sponges to elephant seals, the book covers all major aspects of animal behavior and will be of interest to scientists and laypersons. I am certain her stories will inspire many to pursue studies of natural history and behavior.”

Maureen A. Donnelly, coeditor of Ecology and Evolution in the Tropics

"A marvelous introduction to the whys and wherefores of animal behavior..."


"It’s not just about insect sex—though there is a lot of it here. Marty Crump’s book is a trawl through the whole gamut of weird animal behaviours. Watch out for spine-anointing, toad-chewing hedgehogs; tortoises that stomp the ground to draw up worms; and the mantids of the title that mate more effectively once the female has bitten off their heads. With Crump’s 30-plus years of experience in the field, this beautifully written and charmingly illustrated book combines acute observation with helpful explanation. Nature has never seemed so bizarre and splendid."

Adrian Barnett | New Scientist

"Weird words have their fans; and so do weird moments in natural history. In this book, biologist Marty Crump celebrates animal diversity, with the emphasis on the bizarre. Her aim is to bring the stuff of scientific papers to the general public. She ranges widely, from elephant seals to bowerbirds. The headings include sex, of course, as well as eating, young-rearing and defensive behaviour. Who would believe that hedgehogs anoint themselves with toad venom as a defence? That rabbits eat their own dung? Or that sea slugs like group sex? The book grosses out, but also educates. Not for intelligent design proponents."

LUCY SUSSEX | The Age (Melbourne, Australia)

"This unnatural history of the diverse social and sexual practices of insects and animals makes you glad that you are not a slipper limpet, even though it spends most of its life engaged in group sex and changes sex regularly. Nobody has a worse life than emperor penguins which breed in temperatures as low as minus 95F (-70C) and in wind speeds that reach 120mph. Female spiders chew the heads off their mates during sex—but they’re game guys so they find another mate which eats what’s left of them. Do they care? They’re just doing what a guy’s gotta do."

Iain Finlayson | Times UK

"Crump starts with sex but then explores other natural phenomena with an engaging down-to-earth approach that will keep you turning the pages from blood meals to legs modified into fangs to pheronomes as alarm signals. It’s a great read."

Sharon Wooten | The Olympian

"The combination of bizarre facts and rational, evolution-based explanations will make this an ideal book for an intelligent, nature-obsessed teenager (or, indeed, any-ager). I wish I could have read it 50 years ago. . . . We are living at a time of exponential growth in zoological knowledge, and inspired popularizers like Marty Crump . . . are needed to interpret the new findings for the rest of us."

Nicholas Gould | International Zoo News

Table of Contents

1. Ain’t Love Grand! 
2. The Mamas and the Papas 
3. Eat to Live and Live to Eat 
4. Don’t Tread on Me
5. Ya Don’t Say! 
Parting Thoughts
Appendix: Scientific Classification 
References Consulted and Suggested Reading 

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