Tag: reproduction

Secret, Censored 100-Year-Old Manuscript Reveals Penguins' Sexual "Crimes"

By Sophie Bushwick | June 11, 2012 3:39 pm

Adélie penguins
Adélie penguin chicks chase an adult.

Penguins are undeniably adorable. What other animal waddles around in a little tuxedo? But don’t let that cute exterior fool you: on a 1910–1913 Antarctic expedition, surgeon and zoologist George Levick bore witness to some surprising sexual behaviors of Adélie penguins, including coerced sex and necrophilia. In fact, the paper he wrote on the penguins’ sexual habits was considered too explicit to be published during the Edwardian era, and has only recently been rediscovered after spending almost a century hidden away in the Natural History Museum at Tring.

Levick travelled to Antarctica with Captain Robert Scott’s 1910 Terra Nova expedition, where he spent 12 weeks in the world’s largest Adélie penguin colony at Cape Adare, observing the birds, taking photographs, and even collecting nine penguin skins. After his return, Levick used his daily zoological notes as source material for two published penguin studies, one for the general public and a more scientific one to be included in the expedition’s official report. Intriguingly, this second account includes vague references to “’hooligan’ cocks” preying on chicks. Levick merely writes, “The crimes which they commit are such as to find no place in this book, but it is interesting indeed to note that, when nature intends them to find employment, these birds, like men, degenerate in idleness.”

Now, modern-day researchers have discovered that Levick did in fact describe the hooligans’ crimes in the paper, “The sexual habits of the Adélie penguin.” This paper was expunged from his official account, probably because it was too disturbing for Edwardian mores. Levick himself covered some explicit passages of his personal notes with coded versions, rewritten in the Greek alphabet and pasted over the original entries. Although the paper was withheld from the official record, researchers at the Natural History Museum did preserve it in pamphlet form, printing 100 copies labeled, “Not for Publication.” But most of the originals have been lost or destroyed, and no later works on Adélie penguins cited this paper until recently, when researchers in the Bird Group at the National History Museum at Tring discovered one of the original pamphlets in their reprints section.

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Showy Male Birds—You Live Life Like a Candle in the Wind

By Joseph Castro | August 4, 2011 3:59 pm

spacing is important

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

Studly Fish Aren't Born, They're Made—Sometimes Overnight

By Joseph Castro | July 18, 2011 4:16 pm

Some people like to say that men are always ready (and eager) for sex. Whether or not that’s true for humans, Stanford University researchers have recently learned that it is the case for certain male fish. Downtrodden male African cichlids, whose reproductive systems are so suppressed that biologists thought the fish couldn’t produce sperm, can successfully spawn within hours of rising to power, according to a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Like many other animal species, a single leader—the biggest, baddest male—runs each group of African cichlids. This alpha male, which often sports vibrant blue scales, monopolizes the females and beats down other, weaker males in the community. (High school, anyone?) Because of this sexual exclusion, subordinate males suffer a noticeable pallor, decreased levels of reproductive hormones, and severely shrunken testes. Essentially, the fish trade sperm production for growth spurts, in hopes of someday overtaking the alpha male. Why waste energy making sperm if you can’t use it, right?

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The Measure of a Man's Private Parts Is Connected to His Fertility

By Patrick Morgan | April 4, 2011 4:11 pm

When it comes to male fertility, length matters—the length between the scrotum and anus, that is. New research suggests that measuring a man’s “anogenital distance,” or AGD,  is a fast, low-tech, relatively accurate method of getting an idea of the quality of a man’s sperm.

In a new study, University of Rochester professor Shanna Swan and her colleagues broke out the measuring tape and assessed the anus-to-scrotum distance of 126 men born in 1988 or later. The men whose AGD’s were shorter than the average of two inches were 7.3 times more likely to have low sperm counts than their more well-endowed…er, well-distanced, brethren. These men with shorter AGD’s also had low sperm motility and poor sperm morphology.

So why on Earth, you’re wondering, would this be the case?

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Meet the Suicidal, Child-Soldier, Sexless Cloned Wasps

By Allison Bond | May 12, 2010 2:14 pm

waspThink you’re having a rough day? Try being a wasp larva, destined never to fully develop, but instead to sacrifice  yourself to save your luckier siblings. Welcome to the twisted world of the wasp Copidosoma floridanum, a species whose bizarro reproductive strategies were recently elucidated in research out of Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology.

A female wasp will lay her one or two eggs inside of the egg of a caterpillar known as a cabbage looper, according to New Scientist:

“One egg might not sound so bad, but [this wasp egg] is no ordinary egg. It is polyembryonic, meaning that the single embryo cell at its heart can repeatedly clone itself. As a result, just one egg can produce up to 2000 offspring.”

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Woman Gets Pregnant…While Already Pregnant

By Melissa Lafsky | September 25, 2009 11:00 am

babyA woman in Arkansas is pregnant with two babies at the same time…except they aren’t twins. ABC News reports:

Doctors successfully located Todd and Julia Grovenburg’s growing baby girl Jillian, but then discovered another smaller baby — what could be Jillian’s younger brother — growing beside her.

The Grovenburgs may have conceived their son Hudson a full two-and-a-half weeks after Jillian, according to statements given to KFSM-TV in Ft. Smith-Fayetteville, Ark.

There’s even a name for what happened: superfetation, or conceiving while pregnant. Unsurprisingly, it’s extraordinarily rare—one doctor said she could only track down 10 reported cases.

Granted, there’s a big problem—what happens to the younger baby when the older fetus is born?

“It [the second conception] can happen up to 24 days later than the first conception, and then you’re putting the second baby at risk for lung development problems,” said [OB-GYN Karen Boyle].

However, in the Grovenburg’s case, Boyle said the difference of two weeks would not put the younger baby at much of a risk for health problems.

Talk about dodging a bullet—though birthdays in the Grovenburg household should be interesting.

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Image: iStockphoto

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Sex & Mating

Do Men Get Struck By Lightning More Than Women?

By Brett Israel | September 22, 2009 12:32 pm

lightning_webMen make up a whopping 82 percent of the 648 people that were killed by lightning in the U.S. from 1995 to 2008. Dudes, what gives?

Apparently, standing outside during a lightning storm with a metal pole in your hand seems like a good idea to a lot of men.

Via Popular Science,  John Jensenius, a lightning safety expert with the National Weather Service, had this to say:

Men are less willing to give up what they’re doing just because of a little inclement weather… and will continue to engage in pastimes that make them vulnerable, such as fishing, camping and golfing. Recreational or sports-related activities are involved in almost half of all lightning-related deaths.

To put an evolutionary spin on the data, Peter Todd, a behavioral psychologist at Indiana University, said he thinks men are hard-wired to exhibit bold (stupid?) behavior to attract a mate—though unless their ideal mate is their golfing or fishing buddy, it’s not so clear how this strategy works. Are women really impressed by tales of some dope slicing into the woods during a lightning storm?

Evolutionarily speaking, you’d think men with a tendency to hang around outside during storms would have been killed off by now—and maybe that helps explain why only 648 people were killed by lightning over the past 13 years.

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Image: flickr / Axel Rouvin

Study: Talking to Hot Women Makes Men Lose Brain Function

By Melissa Lafsky | September 4, 2009 11:11 am

flirtingBreaking news! Men become less intelligent when they’re trying to impress women they’d like to sleep with! A new study in the Journal of Experimental and Social Psychology found that “men who spend even a few minutes in the company of an attractive woman perform less well in tests designed to measure brain function” than men who talked to women they didn’t want to, er, mate with.

The Telegraph reports that the study, which consisted of 40 male heterosexual students, proceeded as follows:

Each one performed a standard memory test where they had to observe a stream of letters and say, as fast as possible, if each one was the same as the one before last.

The volunteers then spent seven minutes chatting to male or female members of the research team before repeating the test.

The results showed men were slower and less accurate after trying to impress the women. The more they fancied them, the worse their score.

And how did the other sex fare? When the test was repeated with a group of female volunteers, their memory scores stayed the same regardless of whether they’d chatted with a man or a woman.

The researchers even managed to come up with a somewhat scientific theory for why this occurred:

Researchers who carried out the study…think the reason may be that men use up so much of their brain function or “cognitive resources” trying to impress beautiful women, they have little left for other tasks.

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Image: iStockphoto

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