Snakes are ‘righties’–with their penis, that is.

By Seriously Science | November 18, 2014 6:00 am
Photo: Flickr/Fyn Kynd

Photo: Flickr/Fyn Kynd

Here’s a fun fact to break out at your next cocktail party: male snakes have two complete sets of reproductive organs, one on the right side of their body, and another on the left. This includes two separate hemipenes, which are the snake equivalent to a penis that pop out of the body during sex. Here, scientists determined that although the right-side reproductive system of gartersnakes is significantly larger than the left, each is used about half the time in the wild, often alternating from one to the other. However, when things get hot (literally, as in hotter temperatures), the males tend use their right hemipenes. The authors propose this is because they are better able to get in the right position to use their “big boy”. Which, although interesting, leaves us itching to know which side, if any, the Canadian gartersnake pit orgy males choose!

Are snakes right-handed? Asymmetry in hemipenis size and usage in gartersnakes (Thamnophis sirtalis)

“Male snakes possess paired reproductive systems (testes, efferent ducts, hemipenes and associated components of the kidneys), with an independent set on either side of the body. Our studies on gartersnakes (Thamnophis sirtalis parietalis) reveal significant morphological asymmetry in this system : testes, kidneys, and hemipenes on the right-hand-side of the body are larger than those on the left. Data from matings in the field, and in outdoor enclosures, suggest that this asymmetry has implications for reproductive behavior and, possibly, reproductive success. Copulations using the right hemipenis produced a larger gelatinous “mating plug,” and may thus more effectively delay remating by the female. Although the overall usage of the two hemipenes in field matings averaged close to 50/50, hemipenis usage was not random. Males tended to alternate hemipenis use in successive matings, perhaps because of depletion of plug material. Also, male gartersnakes preferentially used their larger (right) hemipenis when mating at high body temperatures, perhaps because they are more able to make subtle postural adjustments (and thus, select the better system) under these conditions.”

Related content:
NCBI ROFL: The mechanics of slithering locomotion.
NCBI ROFL: Snakes vs. dentist: pick your poison.
NCBI ROFL: Real men prefer curvy cakes and straight snakes.

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