Science Under the Stars Valentine’s Day lecture covers animal sexuality

Barak Bullock

The Science Under the Stars lecture series celebrated Valentine’s Day with a presentation on animal courtship at UT’s Brackenridge Field Laboratory on Thursday.

Victoria Huang, an ecology, evolution and behavior graduate student, presented this month’s Science Under the Stars lecture, “Sex In The Animal Kingdom.”

Huang discussed dozens of animals in her speech, including birds, fish, amphibians, arachnids, reptiles and mammals. Two examples provided were monogamous bald eagles who choose mates for life, and hermaphroditic clown fish who develop from males into females over time.

Different kinds of sexual behavior were also covered, including courtship, sex-role reversal, mating and homosexuality. Huang said some species of animals do not perceive homosexuality as a gender identity, but rather they may engage in it to acquire a stable mate to care for growing young.

Additionally, Huang spoke about animals other than humans who pursue sex for pleasure, including dolphins and bonobos. 

Huang’s studies focus on the sexuality of a specific species of gecko, whose gender and brain chemistry are determined by the temperature of their incubation prior to birth. Huang said climate change could possibly affect the sex ratio in gecko populations in the future.

“I’m looking at variation within males and how hormones are involved in their development and behavior,” Huang said.

Nichole Bennett, an ecology, evolution and animal behavior graduate student studying climate change biology, helped Huang prepare for her public presentation. Bennett gave her own Science Under The Stars lecture in April 2011 titled “Sex, Bugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll: Insects In Music.” 

“My job is to find speakers and help speakers turn their ideas into a public outreach talk,” Bennett said.

According to Huang, she was an obvious choice for this month’s Science Under The Stars given the focus of her studies.

Advertising graduate student Sarah Weinstein attended the lecture and previous Science Under the Stars events.

“I’ve been to these talks before, and [Huang’s] was one of the standout talks,” Weinstein said.

Published on February 15, 2013 as "Lecture explores animal courtship".