(Eugene O’Neill, eat your heart out.)A question that’s much discussed in evolutionary biology is “Why sex?” –No, not like that, you sicko. The question is, why be one of two separate sexes when it means only half of your genes will get passed on to your offspring, whereas if you were an organism that just cloned itself, all of your progeny would be you, you, you? One of the major answers, which has a lot of data to support it, is that sex leads to variation, and variation is good when you need something for natural selection to act on. –But actually, I’m not going to talk about that at all. Evolutionary foci aside, a good reason on a day-to-day level is, Because it’s very entertaining.
No, not like that, you sicko (although that, too). It’s entertaining because it’s fascinating to watch members of other species trying to attract one another—especially since almost all of them seem to have much better pick-ups than humans do. Take, for example, Temminck’s tragopan.
A pair of them live in the Outdoor Flight Exhibit aviary at the zoo: the female is a pretty brown color with lots of patterning; the male is more red-brown, with a bright blue face (as shown in the photo above). At least, that’s how he is most of the time. So imagine my surprise when, right before my camera lens, he transformed himself: suddenly, from his copper-colored crest, electric-blue horns popped up, and in an instant his chest was covered with a huge apron of blue marked with red and navy. He spread his wings, bobbed his head, and made a series of urgent-sounding clacking noises, his blazing-blue wattle and horns trembling with passion:
I was very impressed. The female, on the other hand, was not exactly blown away. In fact, I’d characterize her expression as: “Eh.”
(But you know, maybe he took her to a movie one night, because about a month later the two of them were taking turns brooding some eggs.)