Reproduction in Animals

Teaching kids is a very difficult task. Teaching biology to kids is a very dangerous task. Whatever you do, you will end up in trouble—deep trouble. If you say the truth, you are in trouble. If you lie, you are in trouble. If you don’t say the whole truth, you still are in trouble.

Last week I was teaching Ashwin, my nephew, who is in fourth standard. The subject was biology. The topic was ‘reproduction in animals.

As I read the chapter, I could hear alarm bells ringing nonstop inside my head. I know my nephew and I know what he is capable of. I have been teaching him for the past three years. The chapter—Reproduction in Animals—is like a minefield with enough mines to trip you again and again until you are dead.

The chapter began with reproduction in mammals: “Animals such as humans, lions, tigers, cows, and bears give birth to babies. They look after the babies and protect them till they learn to look after themselves. They feed their babies with their own milk. Such animals are called mammals.

What an opening!!! That single paragraph has more holes to trap a herd of elephants. I could see the neurons firing at lightening speeds inside my student’s brain. I was debating whether I should run for cover, take the Fifth Amendment, or plead insanity as I was about to be questioned relentlessly until I go gaga.

I was not this afraid while I was attending the job interviews at Pond’s and TCS, where I was facing a group of total strangers. I now could very well imagine what would be going through the minds of the suspects who were being read their Miranda rights. The questions start and I start to tremble.

“Aachacha, are you a mammal?”
“The book says humans are mammals. I am a human being. So naturally I am a mammal.”
“But you have not given birth to a baby nor have you fed it with your own milk.”
“The book says that you have to do these things to be a mammal.”
“But you also have not done any of those things.”
“I am a baby. Only after I grow up and become an adult, I can do those things.”
“What about your dad?”
“He has given birth to me and Irene. So he is a mammal.”

I thought that his mother had given birth to him and his sister. But I keep quiet as any unnecessary argument could land me in more trouble. I have learned that lesson the hard way—experience. And I try not to make the same mistake twice.

“Also he is looking after us.”
“But I also look after you.”
“No you teach me. Teaching and looking after are totally different.”
“Then, what about your mother?”
“She fed us with her own milk. So achachen (his dad) and amma (his mom) are mammals. Irene and I are babies. You could have been a mammal if you didn’t have the accident.”

So cute!!! He has placed his family properly in the animal kingdom—mammals and babies. And I am a wannabe mammal @#$%%@%. I am not thrilled at the prospect. I try to reclaim my rightful place in the animal kingdom.

“I was a mammal before my accident.” [Don’t mess with me kid. I’m smarter than you…]
“Did you have babies before the accident?”
“What @%$#%%%$#?”
“You heard me.”
“No, I didn’t.”
“Then you are not a mammal.”

So the issue was settled for once and all and we moved to the next topic—Animals that lay eggs—Birds.

According to the book, “The female bird lay eggs and sits on them to keep them warm. The baby bird starts growing inside the egg. After a few weeks, when the baby birds are fully developed, they break open the shell and come out….

I thought that was a safe passage. There was nothing controversial. I sigh with relief. But that was a little premature. The paragraph would have been accepted by a fourth standard student who had been borne and brought up in the city and the only birds and eggs he has seen was on the dining table.

But the problem with my nephew is that he goes to my house in Muttuchira during holidays. There we have a farm with all kinds of animals and birds—cows, goats, roosters, hens, etc. My mom hatches the eggs and Ashwin has seen it.

“Aachacha, how are the chicks borne?”
“Like all other birds. The hen lays the eggs. Velliyammachi (grandmother) collects them and stores them. Once the hen has finished laying the eggs, Velliyammachi arranges the eggs in a basket. The hen sits on the eggs until they hatch and the chicks come out.”
“But why does the rooster chases the hen, sits over it and kicks it?”

Sherlock Holmes would have been proud of his observation powers. In the ten acres, where my home is situated, there are hundreds of more interesting things that he could have noticed, than the rooster and hen having a good time!

“The rooster is helping the hen to get the eggs that are stuck inside.” [Attaboy! I am brilliant. I could think on my feet fast. Bravo!!!]
“But why is the hen running and the rooster chasing her if he is going to help her?”

[Oh my God, why do they have to include all these reproduction stuff in the fourth standard textbook?]

“Because getting out the eggs that are stuck inside is painful. The hen is afraid and that is why it is running. It is like you running to your room when you have to go to the dentist.”
“Okay” [Phew! What a narrow escape.]
“If it is painful, why can’t Velliyammachi give an injection, just like the doctor uncle?”
[Grr…#%%@$#%#%. Somebody, please kill me before I go mad!!!]
“Good idea… We will tell Velliyammachi to do that the next time onwards.”

We move to the next section—Animals that lay eggs—Frogs.

I am about to faint and Ashwin is ecstatic. He is the resident expert on frogs and fishes. We have a fish pond in front of our house. There are a lot of fishes in that—Goldfishes, angel fishes, puffers, green terrors, and a host of others. Ashwin knows the name of all the fishes, their eating preferences, and the like. He is a walking encyclopedia of fishes.

During the monsoon, our pond becomes the mating ground for the frogs in the neighborhood. The nights are filled with the sounds of the frogs frolicking and having a great time.

The textbook explains the life cycle of the frog. “The female frog lays hundreds of eggs at a time in a lake or a pond. When the eggs hatch, tiny tadpoles come out. They are like small fishes….

Ashwin has seen the frogs laying eggs. But the process is not as innocent as “the female frog lays hundreds of eggs.” So I get the question that I was dreading.

“Why is the male frog sitting on top of the female frog and hugging it while it is laying the eggs?”

There is no point in denying it as both of us have seen it. For those who have not seen this, it is the mating ritual of frogs. When Frogs mate, the male frog tends to clasp the female underneath in an embrace called amplexus. He literally climbs on her back, reaches his arms around her “waist”, either just in front of the hind legs, just behind the front legs, or even around the head. Amplexus can last several days!

But I cannot say about amplexus to Ashwin!

“The male frog must have been injured and the female frog must be taking it to the frog doctor.”
“But she is also laying eggs…”
“No, no, no… they are not eggs. She must have had an upset stomach and she also must be going to the doctor!”

Before I could elaborate about the virtues of helping others citing the example of the selfless and kind frog who while having a severe case of diarrhea is taking a seriously injured fellow frog to the doctor, Ashwin interrupts me.

“No it is not diarrhea, they are eggs.”
“How do you know that?”
“Because Achachen (his dad) has told me; he removes the eggs from the pond and destroys them.”

A few years back, after a mating season, we had thousands of tadpoles in the pond. The tadpoles got themselves attached to the fleshy fishes like goldfishes, whirl-tale carps, etc. ate their fins and soft skins. Many fishes died and since then my brother had declared war against frogs. All the frogs that jump into the pond are shot dead (with his air gun) and if someone manages to lay the eggs before they are killed, the eggs are removed and destroyed.

“Then go and ask your dad…”

He gave me a look which spoke volumes. It was as if I don’t know anything about frogs and why am I teaching a subject that I don’t know anything about.

So my request, no my prayer, to the textbook authors is to move the subjects like reproduction to higher standards so that people like me—accidental teachers—can have peace of mind and a little self esteem.


  1. Thulasy Mary Elizabeth said,

    September 30, 2010 at 12:22 am

    That was really nice.Laughed a lot.You are going to have a real tough time ahead if you are going to be his teacher……:)

  2. Paresh said,

    September 30, 2010 at 2:55 am

    Hehehe! Argumentative Ashwin at his best 🙂

  3. Jane said,

    September 30, 2010 at 9:41 pm

    hahaha! I’m sure you must be dreading exam time more than Ashwin :)))) Today’s kids are so sharp, they hear and notice everything and also don’t hesitate to ask or say whatever it be…..
    Anyway all the best to you Alexis in all your future encounters…you’ll never know whats coming next 🙂

  4. Alexis Leon said,

    September 30, 2010 at 10:44 pm

    Thulasy: Thanks. I know I have tougher times ahead 🙁

    Paresh: Thanks buddy…hope you are fine.

    Jane: Yes, I am. Thanks for the best wishes. I surely need them.

  5. suma ashok said,

    October 1, 2010 at 6:30 pm

    Hi Alexis…this is suma…ashok’s wife…betty aunty was telling me abt this article and it really had me in splits…kids have the strangest questions …ask me…good luck to u with all the future ones!!!!

  6. Rahul said,

    October 1, 2010 at 8:21 pm

    Alexis that was a nice one. I am ROTFL. Kids ask such funny questions and it very difficult to answer them. I leave teaching my daughter to my wife; but I know how difficult it is. Wish you all the best for the future…

  7. Jaya said,

    October 1, 2010 at 8:24 pm

    Hello Alexis,
    I am a regular reader of you blog, but commenting for the first time. I have two daughters. The eleder one is in 4th and the younger one is in LKG. Since I teach them, I know how you feel. My daughter too had the Reproduction in Animals for the firt term exam. So the textbook must be the same. But luckly for me, she didn’t ask any tough questions. 🙂 Wish you best…

  8. Alexis Leon said,

    October 1, 2010 at 8:33 pm

    Suma: Hi Suma, welcome to my blog. Nice to know that you liked the post and thanks for the wishes. I hope Anja is keeping you entertained 🙂

    Rahul: Thanks buddy. So you give the tough job to your wife :-).

    Jaya: Hi Jaya. Thank you for commenting. Teaching two kids must be very difficult. But in LKG there is not much to teach or is there? Hope the exams went well for your daughter. Convey my regards to both the kids.

  9. Maya said,

    October 1, 2010 at 8:37 pm

    That was a fantastic post. Really enjoyed it. Laughed a lot. Today, the kids are smart and they are not afraid to ask questions. Any way, wish you and Ashwin all the very best. Nice that he has a teacher like you…

  10. kajan said,

    October 3, 2010 at 10:36 pm

    Really enjoyed this post. So funny. It’s nice to see some innocence in kids still.

    Wish they would keep these subjects for an higher class. But I guess the education system is trying to combat media. Television has brought everything to the house.

  11. Zahra said,

    October 5, 2010 at 11:09 pm

    Hilarious!! 😀 Thoroughly enjoyed reading this one!

    Reminds of the time I asked my dad during a car ride about how human babies were born. Pat came the reply, “Operation….like the doctor did for Amma when you were born.”
    Hmm…okay. “But Appa, how were babies born before they had hospitals…you know, like Moses and Jesus and all?”
    What followed was the only instance of REALLY rash driving I remember from him :D….. he still doesn’t know how lucky he is….. my next (planned) q was about how he came into the picture if doctors brought out babies!!

  12. anu said,

    October 6, 2010 at 10:01 am

    cute :))

  13. Alexis Leon said,

    October 8, 2010 at 8:55 pm

    Maya: Thanks Maya. Glad you liked the post.

    Kajan: Thanks Kajan. What you said about media is very true. We have complete TV ban, except for 1 hour on weekends. But they still get a lot of misinformation from school, something that is out of our control.:-(

    Zahra: Thanks Zahra. I would loved to see your dad’s face when you asked that question and the one you didn’t 😉

    Anu: Thanks anu…