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Sexy Orchids Make Lousy Lovers

& Other Unusual Relationships

Illustrations by Alan Crump

Vampire bats that regurgitate blood for roosting buddies. Mosquitoes that filch honeydew droplets from ants. Reptiles that enforce chastity on their lovers with copulatory plugs. Capuchin monkeys that use millipede secretions as mosquito repellent. The natural world is full of unusual relationships, and negotiation between life-forms striving to survive is evolution at its most diverse, entertaining, and awe-inspiring. 

Picking up where her highly popular Headless Males Make Great Lovers left off, tropical field biologist Marty Crump takes us on another voyage of discovery into the world of unusual natural histories, this time focusing on extraordinary interactions involving animals, plants, fungi, and bacteria. Sexy Orchids Make Lousy Lovers& Other Unusual Relationships illuminates the ceaseless give-and-take between species. Occasionally, both interacting parties benefit, like when hornbills and dwarf mongooses hunt together for food. Other times, like when mites ride in hummingbirds’ nostrils to reach their next meal of nectar, one individual benefits and the other is neither helped nor harmed. But sometimes one individual benefits at the expense of the other; you need only recall your last sinus infection to understand how that works.

Throughout, Crump brings her trademark spunk and zest to these stories of intimate exchange. She introduces readers to penguins that babysit, pseudoscorpions that ride and mate under the wings of giant harlequin beetles, and parasitic fungi that bend insects to their will. A lively companion to Crump’s earlier work, Sexy Orchids Make Lousy Lovers& Other Unusual Relationships captures the bizarre and befuddling aspects of the behavior of animals, plants, and microbes. After this entertaining romp through the world of natural relationships, you’ll never look at an orchid the same way again.

Read an excerpt.

232 pages | 120 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 2009

Biological Sciences: Biology--Systematics, Evolutionary Biology, Natural History, Physiology, Biomechanics, and Morphology


"Her precise but jolly prose treats hummingbird nostril mites, blood-sharing vampire bats and bubble-hunting whales with such enthusiasm that it is like meeting long-lost friends. . . . Vastly enjoyable."

Adrian Barnett | New Scientist

"Another successful blend of charm and nature. . . . As pleasant a sojourn into so many different worlds as any reader could want."


"Charmingly written—and charmingly illustrated by the author’s brother Alan—the book is a believe-it-or-not treasury of glue-spitting soldier ants, divorced birds, monkeys that dose themselves with herbal cures, and underwater day spas where big fish suspend their practice of eating little fish in exchange for getting their scales groomed and their teeth cleaned. Less easily anthropomorphized species, fungi and bacteria, come in for their own share of behavioral observation. Crump’s entertaining anecdotes build to a heartfelt moral: The world is a wondrous place, and it is our obligation to keep it that way."

Amanda Heller | Boston Globe

"In this jaunty, jovial, somewhat anthropomorphizing romp, behavioral ecologist Marty Crump catalogs a range of interdependent species behaviors—from the semi-social to the purely ecological—that make up life on earth. Some of the relationships she details—like the pseudoscorpion that mates on the back of a South American giant harlequin beetle—may seem odd, but then again, she infers, it’s efficient to get all that loving done in transit. . . . Crump’s zoology contains housecleaners, groomers, and even marital squabbles. If all this domesticates the natural world, it also makes the human one seem more contiguous with it. Crump leaves us feeling, in our human-yet-animal skin, just a tad stranger."

Tess Taylor | Audubon Magazine

"I am grateful to Crump for having brought so many amazing facts to my attention and I am impressed by the industry shown by her and her colleagues. One group whose work she alludes to has been studying a colony of yellow-bellied marmots in Colorado since 1962. Forty-seven years spent watching a whistling rodent – that’s what I call dedication."

Tom Fort | The Daily Telegraph

"Need some quirky icebreakers to make it through a holiday season’s worth of awkward party conversations? Look no further than behavior ecologist Marty Crump’s new collection of weird animal behaviors, a follow-up to 2005’s Headless Males Make Great Lovers. Her new book focuses on unusual relationships in nature between animals and plants. The title essay describes how, "from an orchid’s perspective, all is fair in love and cross-pollination." One-third of orchid species offer their pollinators no nectar. But by swaying seductively in the breeze or mimicking the smell of female insects, the orchids trick horny male insects into pollinating them. Elsewhere in the book, Crump even explains why dogs roll in stinky spots, a behavior that has perplexed many a pet owner: Turns out Fluffy is masking her own scent, enabling her to sneak up on prey undetected or, some experts think, helping her attract more attention from other dogs."

Rachel Saslow | Washington Post

“This work offers a delicious smorgasbord of fascinating species interactions. Readers are treated to descriptions of and explanations for a variety of exotic behaviors and remarkable relationships between organisms. . . . It should inspire everyone to become a naturalist.”


Table of Contents



1 · Whatever Happened to Baby Booby?

& Other Interactions among Animals of the Same Kind

Not Tonight, Honey

To Have and to Hold

You Scratch My Back, I’ll Scratch Yours

Bubble Blowers, Pothole Plugs, and Other Group Hunting Roles

The Babysitters’ Club

Sound the Alarm!

An Intimate Act

Whatever Happened to Baby Booby?

2 · Taken to the Cleaners,

& Other Interactions between Animal Species

Hunting Partners

Taken to the Cleaners

She’s Got a Ticket to Ride

Houseguests, Unlike Dead Fish, Don’t Always Smell in Three Days

Be It Ever So Humble

Raising the Devil’s Spawn

Defense Contracts

Cow Pie No. 5

Audacious Pirates and Sneaky Burglars

3 · Green, Green Plants of Home,

& Other Interactions between Animals and Plants

Sexy Orchids Make Lousy Lovers, and Other Orchid Contrivances

A Seedy Neighborhood

The Green, Green Plants of Home

Powerful Plant Products

There’s the Rub

Ants and Plants

4 · Invasion of the Body Snatchers,

& Other Interactions with Fungi and Bacteria

Intestinal Microbes and the Gas We Pass

Deadly Dragon Drool

Mighty Mushrooms and Other Good Fungus among Us

Bombarded by Bacteria

A Cloak of Antibiotics

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Body Snatchers Revisited

Conserve Interactions, Not Just Species


References Consulted and Suggested Reading


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