Two weeks ago, our topic was eating too much. Last week, we covered the all-time sleep champions of the animal world. You should have seen this coming because after gluttony and sloth it’s only logical that this week we talk about sex. Weird animal sex. No worries, I’ve promised the editors I’ll keep this clinical and dry.
I bet you didn’t know that a male damselfly’s penis ends in a teeny tiny spoon, which serves to scoop out the sperm that other, competing males have previously deposited in a mate’s vagina. Absent a vagina or anything that serves as an opening to her reproductive organs, a female squid who encounters sperm releases a hormone that dissolves a section of her skin, allowing sperm to enter. Relative to the different species’ body mass, a male hamster’s reproductive organs are much larger than those of a horse (although one can easily see why “hung like a hamster” might not catch on in the human bar scene). After intercourse, a male honeybee’s genitals explode, leaving the tip of the penis in the female as a cork to help keep the sperm in place. Females of some species of snakes, lizards and turtles can store live sperm, prior to fertilization, for up to several years. Mouse sperm is bigger than elephant sperm, yet an elephant penis can weigh up to 70 pounds and be more than three feet long (which is still no match for the ten-foot length of the female elephant’s reproductive tract). Male antechinus, a small Australian marsupial, produce a lifetime supply of sperm by the time they’re a year old and then spend the next few weeks mating for up to 14 hours at a time, interrupted only by short breaks, eventually having so much sex that their bodies literally break down by the end of a month-long and, for the males, fatal breeding season. Female praying mantis say “yes” to a courting male by mating with him, and they say “no” by biting his head off. Literally.
I predict that the line in the old song, “birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it,” will never quite sound the same to you again.