What Comes Naturally
In ancient Rome, the god of fertility was honored in February, with ceremonial love lotteries and mock-floggings with a bloody goatskin. Even those are a pale reflection of truly bizarre courtships that unfold in the natural world. For example, the common garden snail is a hermaphrodite that carries both sets of genitals near its head. Once a week, it engages a new companion in an orgy of sensual caresses until the moment of genital penetration, when the “top” suddenly stabs its partner with a very sharp barb. (The snail’s “love dart” is tipped with a chemical compound that acts as an antidote for the critters’ natural birth control.) Taking a page from Isabella Rossellini’s award-winning Green Porno, the much-anticipated exhibit “Animal Attraction” explores all kinds of strange reproductive rituals. One is the creepy anglerfish, the male of which sinks his teeth into his mate and dissolves until nothing is left but gonads. Another is the exquisite bower bird, which attracts a partner through song, dance, and flamboyant architectural feats. Daily programs include dives in the world’s deepest living coral exhibit to shed light on reef reproduction; somewhat awkward demonstrations of bee dancing, which is crucial to pollination; and regular feedings of the African penguins, which we know form long-lasting same-sex couples in captivity.