Quiz: The surprises of animal sex

Quiz: The surprises of animal sex

The Natural History Museum in London launches its Sexual Nature exhibition on 11 February. It examines the rich variety of sexual experience in nature, and how various strategies help animals pass on their genes. Think you know much about birds and bees? Let's see...

White peacock (SPL)

1.) Multiple Choice Question

Bonobos have been called the most promiscuous animals - but actually, sex performs a number of social roles. Which of these is NOT one of them?

Bonobo (SPL)
  1. Defusing conflict situations
  2. Displaying sexual prowess
  3. Establishing social hierarchy
  4. Greeting

2.) Multiple Choice Question

One species of penguin has been noted for its sexual antics - driven to distraction by hormones, they'll try to mate with anything. Which one?

Black-footed penguins (SPL)
  1. Emperor
  2. Adelie
  3. Black-footed (pictured)
  4. Erect crested

3.) Missing Word Question

Homosexuality has been studied in some * animal species.

  1. 6
  2. 450
  3. 12,000

4.) Multiple Choice Question

One common feature of animals' genitalia is the corkscrew shape - it can keep sexual partners joined or frustrate the efforts of multiple partners. Which of these animals does NOT have a corkscrew-shaped penis?

Worm gear (SPL)
  1. Boar
  2. Cat
  3. Slug
  4. Duck

5.) Multiple Choice Question

Even gender itself is a flexible concept in nature; some animals, famously including the clownfish, can change from one gender to another as situations change. Which of these animals changes from male to female as it ages?

Clownfish (SPL)
  1. Ladybird
  2. Oyster
  3. Giraffe

6.) Multiple Choice Question

The leopard slug has a notable trick to prevent its mate from having further partners. What is it?

Leopard slug (SPL)
  1. Chewing off its own penis, leaving it in its partner
  2. Keeping its partner under guard after sex
  3. Covering its partner in a sealing wax

7.) Multiple Choice Question

Which of these animals, in its bid to find a mate, does "the moonwalk"?

Platypus (SPL)
  1. Platypus (pictured)
  2. Naked mole rat
  3. Manakin bird
  4. Blue whale

8.) Missing Word Question

The barnacle's penis is * times its body length.

  1. 1/3
  2. 3
  3. 30

9.) Multiple Choice Question

But where's the romance in all this? Some animals do pair for life - though they find other partners if one dies. Which of these animals does NOT find a mate for life?

Mute swans (SPL)
  1. Penduline tit
  2. Albatross
  3. Bottlenose dolphins


  1. Bonobos use sex in the same way many other primates use grooming - it helps, but most of all in maintaining a social order and harmony. Prowess doesn't seem to be an issue. Unusually, bonobos engage in face-to-face and even oral sex.
  2. The Adelie penguin was studied by George Levick, a scientist among Captain Scott's Antarctic expedition. The behaviour he noted among the penguins was so naughty he wrote of it in Greek so as not to offend casual readers.
  3. From swans to dolphins, sheep to lizards, the homosexual inclinations of some 450 species have been studied in detail - and many others have been observed. One species of whiptail lizard, for example, has only females. Each effectively clones itself - but only after "pseudocopulation" with another female.
  4. Cats have barbed penises, rather than corkscrews, which irritates or even damages the females. For some species, this approach is designed to prevent the female from finding further partners. In cats, the injury acts to make females fertile.
  5. Oysters spend their early lives as males, spawning first as males that release sperm and in later years as females that release eggs. This "protandry" can be seen in few animal species, but is common in flowering plants.
  6. In a particularly graphic demonstration that procreation is typically an animal's last necessary task before dying, it is the leopard slug that leaves its penis in its partner.
  7. Birds in general are known for extravagant courtship displays and plumage, but the manakin's courtship dance is uncannily like Michael Jackson's stage trick. Manakins even get together in dance troupes in a dazzling display for potential mates.
  8. Relatively few barnacles reproduce sexually, but those that do have a hard time. After all, they can't move - so their penises, up to 30 times their body length, wave around in currents until encountering a female.
  9. The penduline tit males and females are in a contest in which either may flee the nest, leaving the other to tend to the brood. Albatrosses do bond for life with their partners, while bottlenose dolphin males have a male "wing man" they keep for life.

How will your species fare?

0 - 3 : Heading for extinction

4 - 6 : Stable population

7 - 9 : Set to take over the Earth

Images courtesy Science Photo Library

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