10 Surprising Facts About Animal Sex

iStock/Dias Studio
iStock/Dias Studio

Homo sapiens do not have a monopoly on strange sex. Peculiar mating rituals are prevalent throughout the animal kingdom. While writing my book Sex Weird-o-Pedia, these were the 10 most interesting animal sex facts I came across.

1. Turtle mating sounds make for good special effects.

It turns out that animal mating sounds can be really useful for capturing people’s attention. When the filmmakers of Jurassic Park wanted to create velociraptor sounds, they used recordings of tortoises getting it on.

2. Sharks have versatile birthing methods.

Rare close-up encounter with wild endangered species Zebra Leopard Shark (Stegostoma fasciatum
iStock/Placebo365

Australian scientists claim to have found a shark that gives virgin births. They studied a female zebra shark named Leonie, who laid eggs despite not being around a male shark in three years. Several years before her virgin birth, Leonie gave birth after mating with a male shark. She is believed to be the first known shark to reproduce both sexually and asexually.

3. Worms have really long dry spells.

You think it's been a long time since you've been intimate with someone? You've got nothing on worms. After sequencing the DNA of asexual translucent worms, NYU researchers discovered that one species, Diploscapter pachys, had not had sex for about 18 million years. This makes Diploscapter pachys one of the oldest known asexual species.

4. Fine fragrances turn big cats on.

Calvin Klein colognes have sex appeal to animals, too. Captive tigers and jaguars have become stimulated by the brand’s Obsession for Men scent. Forest rangers have used the scent to lure tigers out of the wild.

5. Barnacles have adaptable penises.

A close-up of barnacles on a rock
iStock/Photoshopped

Barnacles may have the most interesting penises in the animal kingdom. Their penises can stretch up to eight times the length of their body. And while many species' manhoods can change size, few can alter their shape. But researchers in Alberta found that barnacles that live in gentle waters have long and thin penises that are good for reach, while those in rough waters have short and wider penises that are better for holding off strong waves. The researchers then transported rough water barnacles to calmer waters and vice versa and found that after getting moved around, the barnacles adjusted their penis's shape to better fit their environment.

6. Water bugs mate loudly.

The water bug species Micronecta scholtzi are the loudest animal in the world relative to their size. The tiny critter reaches nearly 100 decibels when it rubs its penis against its abdomen. Basically, there is a rock concert going on whenever this bug releases a mating call.

7. Ducks defend themselves with their vaginas.

Duck penises can be terrifying: They are long and corkscrew-shaped and they can be used like a lasso to pull in females who are trying to escape unwanted advances. To fend off unwelcome mating attempts from overeager males, female ducks have evolved vaginas that twist in the opposite direction of their male counterparts’s corkscrew penises. Discover magazine referred to duck vaginas as “organic chastity belts."

8. Most birds don’t have penises.

Close-up of an ostrich
iStock/sasapanchenko

Just 3 percent of bird species have penises. Ostriches and ducks have them, but eagles and penguins do not. When birds get erections, their penises fill up with lymph fluid instead of blood. Birds without penises transfer sperm from male to female via what is known as a cloacal kiss.

9. Male birds are desperate to impress potential mates.

As long as humans have been on Earth, guys have done incredibly stupid things to try to impress women. Male birds are not immune to this dynamic.

Little birds like chickadees will group together to take on larger predators. It has generally been assumed that they do this for protection purposes, but researchers in Brazil came to a different conclusion: The researchers created a few fake owls, one from a species that regularly eats smaller birds and another from a less threatening owl species. They found that across 79 different species of small birds, the less threatening owl was attacked more often by the smaller birds. Their conclusion was that the small birds used the weaker opponent as an opportunity to showcase their defense skills to potential mates.

10. Unlike humans, animals have gotten frisky in space.

According to NASA, no humans have ever had sex in space. But other animal species have been more active with their sexuality and reproductivity outside our atmosphere.

The first pregnant mammals to fly in outer space aboard a U.S. spacecraft were rats, and frogs have conceived in orbit.

In an effort to better understand how reproduction works in the absence of gravity, Russia’s space agency launched five geckos into orbit in 2014 so that they could observe how the lizards had sex in space. Sadly, the geckos froze to death before they touched back down to Earth.

In 2018, NASA scientists began a mission that involved sending human and bull sperm to outer space. Their intention was to study how microgravity affects the motility of sperm cells. Because if humans are to ever colonize space, we must boldly bone where no one has boned before.

Ross Benes is the author of the new book Sex Weird-o-Pedia: The Ultimate Book of Shocking, Scandalous, and Incredibly Bizarre Sex Facts.

Could Gigantic Coconut Crabs Have Played a Part in Amelia Earhart’s Mysterious Disappearance? At Least One Scientist Thinks So

Getty Images
Getty Images

Amelia Earhart's disappearance during her attempt to fly around the world has captivated historians and conspiracy theorists for more than 80 years. One organization is now suggesting that her fate may have been sealed by giant crabs.

The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) believes that Amelia Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan may have landed their plane on Nikumaroro Island when they couldn't find their target, Howland Island, and that Nikumaroro's endemic crustaceans may have played a part in the ensuing mystery.

According to National Geographic, there are several clues supporting TIGHAR's theory. The large reef that hugs Nikumaroro’s coast makes it conducive to emergency aircraft landings. In 1940—just three years after Earhart’s disappearance—British colonists found 13 human bones beneath a ren tree on the island and shipped them to Fiji, where they were lost. The colony's administrator, Gerald Gallagher, sent a telegram back to England positing that it was Earhart’s skeleton. Then, in 2001, researchers uncovered U.S.-made artifacts around the ren tree including a jackknife, a woman’s compact, a zipper, and glass jars. The plot thickened even further in 2017, when four forensic bone-sniffing dogs all indicated that a human had indeed died at the site, though excavators failed to dig up any more evidence.

If those 13 bones beneath the ren tree did belong to the unfortunate castaway, where are the rest of her remains? Tom King, TIGHAR’s former chief archaeologist, thinks that coconut crabs can answer that question.

Nikumaroro is home to thousands of the colossal creatures, which can grow to a terrifying 3 feet across and weigh 9 pounds. They’re sometimes called robber crabs because of their penchant for absconding with objects that smell like food, and they’ll eat practically anything—coconuts, fruit, birds, rodents, other crabs, their own discarded body parts, and carrion.

It’s not unreasonable, then, to think that coconut crabs may have feasted on Earhart’s corpse and then taken her bones home with them. In one experiment to test the theory, TIGHAR researchers deposited a pig carcass on the island and filmed the aftermath. With the help of small strawberry hermit crabs, coconut crabs stripped the pig down to the bone in two weeks. After a year, some of the bones had been dragged 60 feet from the carcass’s original location, and some were never recovered at all.

King believes Earhart’s missing 193 bones could be hidden in the burrows of various coconut crabs. As in the pig experiment, crabs may have scattered some of Earhart’s bones dozens of feet away, but maybe not all of them—after all, the forensic dogs smelled bones near the ren tree that haven’t yet been located. Right now, TIGHAR is working with the Canine Forensics Foundation to further explore the area.

While we wait for more answers, dive into these other theories about Earhart’s disappearance.

[h/t National Geographic]

The Cat Sanctuary That Sits Near the Ancient Roman Site Where Julius Caesar Was Murdered

ClaireLucia/iStock via Getty Images Plus
ClaireLucia/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Cats will sleep anywhere—even in ancient ruins. Located in Rome, Colonia Felina di Torre Argentina is a cat sanctuary on the site where conspirators stabbed Julius Caesar 22 times outside the Theatre of Pompey, on March 15 44 BCE. Centuries later, in 1929, Mussolini excavated the area to reveal four temples that are 20 feet below the street level. Today, it’s the oldest open-air spot in Rome.

Bystanders can view the temple complex known as Largo di Torre Argentina from the fenced-off street, but according to Conde Nast Traveler, after a $1.1 million restoration process, the sanctuary will open to tourists in the second half of 2021. For now, the only living things allowed in the sacred area (area sacra) are feral cats.

According to Colonia’s website, they are "the most famous cat sanctuary in Italy” and also the oldest in Rome. Many of the cats fall into the special needs category: Some are disabled, missing part of a paw, or are blind; the special needs and elderly cats live in a walled-off area. Volunteers—a.k.a. gattare, or cat ladies—take good care of them, and some cats are available for adoption.

Atlas Obscura reports that “since the mid-1990s, the population has grown from about 90 to a peak of 250” cats and notes that the sanctuary has a spay/neuter program. From the street, visitors can watch gatti like the three-legged Pioppo and Lladrò—known as “poisonous kitten” because of how angry he was when he got there—sunbathe and sleep under pillars.

It’s unclear if the cats are respecting Caesar or disrespecting the fallen leader. However, a gift shop is open to visitors, and people can donate money toward the cats and/or volunteer.

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