Phallostethus cuulong was swimming quietly in Vietnam’s Mekong River, minding its own business, when humans discovered the fish in 2009. And now that researchers have described P. cuulong [pdf], we can’t help violating its privacy by gazing unabashed at its most interesting feature. That feature sits on the throat in the form of a priapium, an organ with as many parts as a Swiss Army knife, most of which contribute to a single function: making as many babies as possible.
If these fossilized turtles had a final thought, it was probably, “If you’ve gotta go, go out with a bang!” New evidence suggests that the ancient reptiles died while mating and were preserved in their final embrace.
Germany’s Messel Pit Fossil Site contains black oil shale that has preserved even the soft tissues of tens of thousands of 47-million-year-old fossils. Among them, the only ones found in pairs were nine sets of coupled carettochelyid turtles, and although previous research speculated that the reptiles were copulating, there was no proof until now. German researchers discovered that the turtles were all in male-female pairs (in the above image, the larger fossil on the left is the female), and that their tails were aligned, a position that indicates the close contact of a mating stance.
When a male’s bits don’t fit with a female’s bits, you wind up with reproductive malfunction. But shape isn’t everything, as a team of researchers recently discovered while watching hundreds of skink lizards court and spark.
Most studies looking at how genitalia mismatch contributes to new species take the concept literally: if the bits don’t fit together like lock and key, matings will be unsuccessful. And if the mismatch between the gear of two groups is bad enough, they will form separate reproductive populations, and, eventually, species. But the idea, which was first tossed around more than 150 years ago, has been discounted as a possible source of new species. Differently sized or shaped genitalia is such a big change that it’s likely to come after many other speciation triggers, like mutations or long separations between populations divided by mountain ranges.
All the single ladies, all the single ladies…
Whales catch earworms, too, show scientists from the University of Queensland in Australia in a new study. Each breeding season, males start out singing a new tune, which might incorporate bits of golden oldies or be entirely fresh. These new songs are then passed from whale to whale for 4,000 miles, usually starting from the western edge of the Pacific near Australia, a veritable humpback metropolis, to French Polynesia in the east, a comparative hinterland: a possible cetacean case of cultural trends starting in the big city and propagating to the country. Another hypothesis from the Hairpin:
What if Michael Jackson was reincarnated as a whale and is now living off the coast of eastern Australia?
When it comes to mallard bills, brighter is better: A bright yellow bill is duck-speak for “I’m healthy,” attracting more female ducks than dingy green ones. After discovering that avian semen has antibacterial properties, scientists then found that the semen of brighter-billed males killed more bacteria than the semen of darker-billed ones. It implies that by seeking out bright-billed males, female ducks are protecting themselves against bacteria-related sexually transmitted diseases.
In her experiment, University of Oslo researcher Melissah Rowe collected semen from ducks (a feat unto itself—the videos in this link are amazing, but watch at your own risk) of various bill colors, and then tested how well the semen killed bacteria such as E. coli. She found that ducks whose bills had more carotenoids—an organic pigment that brightens bills—also had semen that more effectively killed E. coli. However, they discovered that the semen’s effectiveness against the bacteria S. aureus wasn’t associated with bill color, possibly implying that this bacteria doesn’t pose much harm to ducks.
By Mara Grunbaum
To find a mate, most animals must travel—up a tree, down a stream, across the street to the bar. But not barnacles, which spend their entire adult lives cemented firmly to rocks, boats, whales and the like. To compensate for their immobility, barnacles have evolved the longest penises relative to body size in the animal kingdom.
The appendages can reach up to ten times the length of the barnacles’ bodies to allow them to search of a partner. See a video—safe for work!—below.
According to new research published in Marine Biology, the shape of barnacles’ penises varies depending on their circumstances. Barnacles spaced far apart from each other develop stretchier organs, the better for reaching across the gaps, and barnacles exposed to rough waves grow wider ones to stand up against the tide.
A cricket’s constant chirping may seem a bit ballsy, but just wait until you hear about their testicles. For at least one species of cricket, the tuberous bushcricket (Platycleis affinis), the testicles take up 14 percent of the insect’s body mass!
The Daily Mail made a stunning observation:
To put this into perspective, a man with the same proportions would have to carry testicles weighing as much as five bags of sugar each.
Researchers found new evidence of the importance of make-up while studying Spanish flamenco dancers flamingos. The scientists discovered that the birds augment their signature coloring by applying tints drawn from their own glands–and they use their painted plumage to attract mates.
The hue of the leggy birds’ feathers come primarily from the pigments in their diet, but researcher Juan Amat found that they also secrete the colored pigments, called carotenoids, from their preen glands. Flamingos (and many other birds) press their heads to the preen glands at the base of their tails to pick up feather-protecting oils, which they then spread around their bodies.
The researchers realized that those oils contain pigments, ranging from red to yellow, by keeping an eye on the flamingos’ feathers and behavior: They noticed that the coloring of the birds was brightest during the mating season, and quickly diminished after they found a mate. Amat told BBC News:
“The rubbing is time-consuming,” Dr Amat told BBC News. “And the more frequently the birds practise it, the more coloured they appear. If the birds stop the rubbing, [their] plumage colour fades in a few days because carotenoids[pigments] bleach quickly in the sunlight.”
It’s pretty clear that–in a fight–Darth Vader would crush Jar Jar Binks, Optimus Prime would beat Starscream, and Batman could pummel the Joker. Though some of these fictional characters don’t even look like humans, when it comes to strength, their voices give it all away. New research seems to confirm this: humans, like other animals, can accurately predict physical strength from voice alone.
In a study appearing today in The Proceedings of the Royal Society, researchers asked subjects to evaluate the upper-body strength of speakers from four distinct populations and language groups just by listening to their voices. Even when unfamiliar with a speaker’s language, listeners could tell which men might be good in a fight. The men they judged as sounding brawny were in fact physically stronger as measured by tests of hand grip, chest strength, shoulder strength, and bicep circumference.
As lead author Aaron Sell told Discovery News:
“Information about male formidability would have been important for both sexes over evolutionary time,” said Sell. “Both men and women would have benefitted from knowing who would likely win fights in order to make prudential alliances and for other reasons. Men would need this information to regulate their own fighting behavior. Women would also need this information in order to make effective mate choices.”
They study failed to make a similar link between women’s voices and strength. The study’s authors speculate that this is because early men were more likely to spar. The researchers also couldn’t determine what it was about certain male voices that made them sound strong–it wasn’t just a deep timbre–and say listeners may respond to a complex mix of cues.
For men, the finding proves especially interesting given the non-menacing statement researchers asked English speakers to say: “When the sunlight strikes raindrops in the air, they act like a prism and form a rainbow.” Apparently this sentence is from a passage that contains almost all the sounds of the English language, but those certainly aren’t fighting words.
Discoblog: Speaking French? Your Computer Can Tell
Discoblog: Penn State’s Football Stadium: Now 50% Louder!
Discoblog: NCBI ROFL: Did Gollum have schizophrenia or multiple personality disorder?
The next time your partner isn’t in the mood for some nookie, how about tempting him or her with a piece of… er… pork? It may sound strange, but Argentinian President Cristina Fernandez swears that a little bit of pig has a whole lot of pop to it.
Reuters quotes the president:
“I’ve just been told something I didn’t know; that eating pork improves your sex life… I’d say it’s a lot nicer to eat a bit of grilled pork than take Viagra,” President Cristina Fernandez said to leaders of the pig farming industry. She said she recently ate pork and “things went very well that weekend, so it could well be true.”