Remember a couple of weeks ago I was mentioning an outbreak of schoolboy(-like) giggles from my physics 408b class due (it turns out, if you did the homework on the equation) to some audience-perceived off-colour hidden joke in some of the material I was presenting? (I’m still a bit embarrassed since I had no intention of making the joke they saw.) Well, just a couple of days later, I was witness to it again, but this time it was in a lecture by someone else, and the audience was mostly professors, and it was one of my esteemed colleagues who couldn’t help himself and broke out giggling. Well, actually, there was a short loud guffaw which burst out. So you see, even the fine upstanding citizens can submit to juvenile giggles.
Let me tell the story. We had the eminent evolutionary biologist Patricia Gowaty (UCLA) give an excellent talk entitled “Darwin and Gender”, as part of the College Commons series that has the celebratory Darwin focus. (I’ve blogged about these events here, with a number of event descriptions you can search for in the archives.)
She was talking about gender differences in evolution, what Darwin had to say about it, and more to the point, what he went to great pains to say that he was not going to discuss (quite an interesting topic in itself).
I won’t go into the details here, but a lot of what she focused on in detail concerned her research on the role of the female in various parts of the insect world in mating where the males seem to have all of the control, having evolved a marvellous range of “contrivances” (as Darwin put it – “the contrivances of males for seizing females and preventing their escape”) for which to grasp the female and hold her in place. This involves all sorts of (sometimes horrifying) tools and positions, involving the female being grasped (sometimes impaled through the wings) by various thorns or claws or spikes or other hooks, horns, and barbs. The point seems to be to hold her in place. Gowaty’s question was about whether the females turn out to be as utterly submitted to this business as it might appear, and whether there are strategies of behaviour and otherwise that are present in response to all of this grabbing and pinning – evolution would suggest that females would have developed mechanisms in response to this – and there is evidence that they do have more control than is apparent. It is subtle, but powerful… and I’ll leave you to go and find out more about her work to find the answers.
But anyway, with all of this talk of imprisonment and restraining for the purposes of mating, she put up (like a good entomologist and evolutionary biologist should) some pictures of various insect couples (dragonflies and cousins thereof in this case), with the restraining going on. At the bottom of the photos was the copyright symbol and the name of the photographer:
At this point my colleague (I’ve no idea what department he’s from), burst out laughing, then muttered his mirth-ridden apologies.