For male Houbara bustards, extravagant sexual displays come with a price: rapid sexual aging. By studying over 1,700 North African Houbara bustards, researchers in France have learned that the birds, by age six, already begin producing smaller ejaculates with a large number of dead and abnormal sperm. The more showy the bustard, the quicker he burns himself out. As lead researcher Brian Preston said in a prepared statement:
This is the bird equivalent of the posers who strut their stuff in bars and nightclubs every weekend. If the bustard is anything to go by, these same guys will be reaching for their toupees sooner than they’d like.
[Read more about these peculiar birds and see a video of one of their seductive dances at the BBC.]
Image courtesy of Frank. Vassen / Flickr
Sometimes sex just isn’t worth your life.
For male black widow spiders, standing at just a quarter of the size of their mates, sex involves a very real danger: females of the species have no qualms about turning cannibalistic if they’re hungry after getting down and dirty. But it seems that it’s more than just a game of chance for horny male spiders. Researchers at Arizona State University have now learned that simply walking on the webs of female spiders can provide males with chemical cues telling them if their potential mates are ravenous enough to eat them.
Bringing up a fruit bat’s oral sex habits with a colleague you don’t know very well may not be the best idea–but according to an Irish court, it doesn’t quite merit the extreme sanctions associated with more flagrant sexual harassment.
Back in May, Discoblog brought you news that a biology professor in Ireland was being charged with harassment by a female colleague after he read from and discussed a racy new paper about fruit bat fellatio. The biologist, Dale Evans, was ordered to attend two years of counseling to correct his attitudes and behavior, and was told that he would be monitored for those two years. But Evans claimed that he’d simply thought the paper was hilarious, had shown it to numerous people that day, and had zero intention of causing offense to his colleague, Rossana Salerno Kennedy. Now ScienceInsider gives us the update:
Evans challenged the ruling, and a judge has now ruled in favor of him, which means that he won’t have to do the counseling. The university’s sanctions on him were “grossly disproportionate,” the judge said. “I won my battle,” Evans tells ScienceInsider.
The High Court judge said that Evans should have received a verbal warning rather than the counseling and monitoring. Evans wasn’t vindicated completely, though. As the Irish Times reports:
The judge refused to grant orders overturning findings of an external investigation that, while Dr Evans had no intention to offend in showing the paper to his colleague, the incident fell within the definition of sexual harassment under UCC’s “Duty of Respect and Right to Dignity” policy.
Discoblog: Ig Nobel Awards Honor Pioneering Work on Bat Fellatio, Whale Snot, & More
Discoblog: A Scientist Finds out That Discussion of Bat Fellatio Is NSFW
Not Exactly Rocket Science: Holy Fellatio, Batman! Fruit Bats Use Oral Sex to Prolong Actual Sex
The list of wacky science discoveries from the Ig Nobel awards announced last night includes teams who made strides in vital fields like bat fellatio and curing diseases via roller coaster rides.
The awards are given out every year for discoveries that made us both laugh and think. Here’s a full list of the winning teams and projects:
“We live in the south of New Zealand in a very hilly city (we have the steepest street in the world!), and intermittent icy conditions in winter can create major havoc,” she said.
Management: A mathematical study by researchers in Italy found that in some business situations, it is better to promote randomly than the choose the most qualified candidates.
Engineering: A team based in the UK and Mexico found the perfect way to collect whale snot–send a remote controlled helicopter in to do it for you. The team members explained the technique to ABC News:
“The technique involves flying a remote-controlled helicopter above a whale as it surfaces and catching the whale blow in petri dishes attached to the underside of the helicopter,” they said in a statement.
Two researchers have found that, as these male fish prepare to breed, they ignore the group and go off alone to explore their environment in the hunt for food. At the same time, egg-bearing female fish do the opposite, sticking more closely to the pack and copying others’ behaviors to find food.
The researchers from the University of St. Andrews published these findings today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society Series B. They suspect that staying with the group helps save the females from predators and conserve their energy, while venturing out alone might help males find other food sources more efficiently. Coauthor Kevin Laland explains:
“While copying others is less risky, it can also be less accurate, compared to collecting firsthand information. The hormonal changes that cause a male to enter his reproductive phase may also be responsible for this transition to more antisocial behaviour.”
Mike Webster of the University of St. Andrews, who coauthored the study with Laland, invoked the clichéd male driver refusing to ask for directions–but with a twist.
“We are all familiar with the stereotype of males refusing to ask for directions–this might apply to fish too, but only when they are preparing to breed.”
Discoblog: Prozac Ocean: Fish Absorb Our Drugs, and Suffer For It
Discoblog: Bizarro Animal Sex Story of the Day
Discoblog: Charge by the Hour? Scottish Volunteers Build Mating Motel for Frogs
DISCOVER: Ladies’ Night in Animal Kingdom
Image: Press Office, University of St Andrews
Want to attract a good mate and ward off unknown relations? Secrete a smelly substance from that gland on your chest and rub it all over. At least that’s what a mandrill might do: A recent study suggests that the baboon-like primates may use their smelly secretions to distinguish compatible mates from family.
After taking swabs from mandrill sternal glands, researchers genotyped each sample to determine the monkey’s major histocompatibility complex (MHC)–a unique genetic signature related to the animal’s immune system. They also, using a sorting technique called gas chromatography–mass spectrometry, determined each secretion’s chemical makeup, and thus its stink bouquet.
As the study’s leader Leslie Knapp of Cambridge University told the BBC, more “genetically diverse” mandrills, i.e. unrelated, have different MHCs and chemically-speaking different scents:
“[I]t seems that the odour is something that tells us some really important things about the genes of a mandrill.”
Unfamiliar with duck loving? Here are the basics: Corkscrewed vaginas and long, temporary, lymph-filled penises that uncoil in fractions of a second. Now researchers have found that some males’ members grow longer when they’re fiercely competing for a mate.
The photo we have to illustrate this magnificent mating equipment is so graphic–in a duck kind of way–that we’re putting it below the jump. As Carl Zimmer memorably put it when writing on the kinkiness of duck sex, it may not be “appropriate for ducklings.”
Given an allotment of two eggs each year, a lady macaroni penguin starts out by laying a smallish bad egg–then she goes on to lay a bigger, good one. If all goes well, the big egg hatches into a baby bird, but the smaller one never does. Why bother laying an egg that never hatches? A new study doesn’t touch that 60-year-old question, but it does hint that the smaller eggs’ sizes might result from the macaroni’s migration.
A group led by bird biologist Glenn T. Crossin has looked at the size of the bad eggs, which can be anywhere from almost the size of a hatching egg to fifty percent smaller. They noted that some ladies laid their eggs immediately after arriving at a penguin colony, while others waited a couple of weeks–and suspected that some of the penguins formed their eggs en route.
There’s that old saying about the futility of a bird and a fish falling in love. Apparently, two birds might not fair any better: Unlucky ducks from two different species are falling for the wrong women.
Actually, matchmaker Michael D. Sorenson of Boston University set them up at birth. In a foreign exchange program of sorts, his team took sixteen young male redheads (Aythya Americana) and sixteen young male canvasbacks (Aythya valisineria) and switched their homes, allowing canvasbacks to raise redhead ducklings and vice versa.
Sorenson wanted to study imprinting—when a young bird sees its caretaker and recognizes her as its mother. Determining what Mom looks like turns out to be important later in a bird’s life, as the duck uses its mother’s image to pick out mates.
According to Dale Evans, a professor at University College Cork in Ireland, he just wanted to bring up an interesting tidbit of animal behavior while chatting with a colleague. But the journal article he referenced, “Fellatio in fruit bats prolongs copulation time,” didn’t just cause raised eyebrows, it also prompted a sexual harassment complaint.
New Scientist reports:
As part of what he says was an ongoing discussion on human uniqueness, Evans showed a copy of the fellatio paper to a female colleague in the school of medicine. “There was not a shred of a sign of offence taken at the time,” Evans says. “She asked for a copy of the article.” A week later he got a letter informing him that he was being accused of sexual harassment.
The female colleague later said that she asked for a copy of the article only to cut short the conversation, which she found disgusting and offensive. Let’s just hope that she didn’t take a look at the video the original researchers put together of the bats in action.
Discoblog: Chimps Use Tools to Improve Their Sex Lives
Discoblog: Endangered Frogs Encouraged to Get Amorous in an Amphibian “Love Shack”
80beats: With Chirps and Trills, Bats Sing Love’s Sweet Song
80beats: The Original Bat-Signals: Bats Can Recognize Individual Voices
Image: flickr / MDL.hu