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Thursday, May 03, 2007

With Ducks, Size Does Matter

A Connecticut scientist is doing some very interesting work studying duck genitalia. The crux of her findings is thus: Ducks, unlike most birds, do not affix to one sexual partner per mating season or mate for life. This leaves female ducks vulnerable to being raped by a mallard who is not to her liking but is into her. Therefore female ducks have evolved to have ever longer and more twisting vaginas so that it is exceedingly difficult for an unwelcome duck to impregnate her without her cooperation. Male ducks have evolved to sport ever larger phalluses to combat the vagina problem.

From the NY Times article:
Gazing at the enormous organs [of a male duck], the scientist asked herself a question that apparently no one had asked before.

“So what does the female look like?” she said. “Obviously you can’t have something like that without some place to put it in. You need a garage to park the car.”...

Dr. Brennan argues that elaborate female duck anatomy evolves as a countermeasure against aggressive males. “Once they choose a male, they’re making the best possible choice, and that’s the male they want siring their offspring,” she said. “They don’t want the guy flying in from who knows where. It makes sense that they would develop a defense.”

Female ducks seem to be equipped to block the sperm of unwanted males. Their lower oviduct is spiraled like the male phallus, for example, but it turns in the opposite direction. Dr. Brennan suspects that the female ducks can force sperm into one of the pockets and then expel it. “It only makes sense as a barrier,” she said.
Who knew ducks have such a complex sex life, with ever-evolving genitalia to meet the challenge?

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