LONDON – A museum in London is throwing caution to the wind for an exhibition on sex in the animal kingdom complete with copulating chimps and randy rabbits -- just in time for Valentine's Day.
"Sexual Nature" at the Natural History Museum explores the diverse ways in which animals have evolved to procreate, such as a snail's love darts, the detachable penis of the paper nautilus, or the outsized testes of the promiscuous chimp.
The exhibition, which opens on Friday, also looks at human sexual behaviour in the context of other species.
"We ask visitors to leave their preconceptions at the door," curator Tate Greenhalgh told AFP.
"This exhibition is about the relationship between sex and evolution and the bizarre, surprising adaptations that animals have evolved to procreate as much as possible.
"We ask people to be open-minded when looking at potentially surprising, maybe shocking things that animals do that would be outlawed in human society."
Visitors are greeted by a video projection of bonobo apes, some of our closest relatives, having sex -- sometimes with a baby clinging on the back, or midway through munching a pineapple.
"We can't judge other animals by our moral codes, just as we don't base our rules on their behaviour," museum-goers are told.
TV screens also show Isabella Rossellini's humorous "Green Porno" clips, with the Italian film actress dressing up as animals and acting out their mating rituals.
The exhibition, which because of its content is aimed at the over-16s, shows the seduction techniques deployed by different species and the thorny issues of sexual selection and male-female power battles.
Stuffed rabbits and foxes in the act are on show, while penis bones are also displayed, from the giant-sized walrus example to the hair's breadth penis bone of a bat.
One of the chief exhibits is Guy the Gorilla, London Zoo's most famous post-war resident. Now stuffed, he exemplifies the kind of massive primate who would run a harem of women, chase off rivals, yet display a gentle side too.
The human section features a magnetic poetry wall where people can stick romantic words together in an attempt to conjure up a winning chat-up line.
"We're affected by the same evolutionary principles: sexual selection, how we attract mates and find them," Greenhalgh said.
Richard Sabin, the museum's senior curator of mammals, said it was the first time the Victorian institution had addressed the sexual side of natural history.
"This is an opportunity for people to re-examine themselves, to look at what we all have to do to survive, which is reproduce," he told AFP.
"It shows the lengths these animals are driven to to perpetuate their genes to ensure they take forward their species."