Thursday, July 05, 2007

The spotted hyena puts you to shame

I Have been accused of writing more about genitals than about science on the bayblab. OK, fine, but I give the people what they want... So I'll unload everything at once so we can concentrate on the science again.

The spotted hyena has had a bad reputation in the past. They are associated with death, scavenging, uncleanliness, cowardice, gluttony, sexual deviance. Early naturalist thought the hyena was a hermaphrodite, or that it practiced homosexuality. This was an understandable misconception. Female spotted hyena are actually slightly bigger than the male, and they have an enlarged clitoris that forms a pseudo-penis. The females give birth, copulate and urinate through their protruding clitoris. Interestingly, this anatomical feature is not dependent on high male hormones as was once thought, since, if testosterone is removed from the womb, they develop normally. The evolutionary advantage of this apparatus is unclear, as it makes copulation and birth more difficult. However, it does enable the female to have complete control over her mating partner, allowing the matriarchal society to persist.

There is a similar human condition of pseudo-hermatophroditism that results in an enlarged "clitoris". It is the consequence of 5-alpha reductase deficiency (5-ARD). The deficiency prevents the conversion of testosterone into DHT which is necessary for the development of male external genitalia. In fact there is an important cluster of 5-ARD in Papua New Guinea, where locals recognize 3 sexes in the society. Sexuality in New Guinea, has always intrigued explorers. The natives wear a Koteka, or penis-gourd, which can be pointy, curly, painted, massive, small penis-shaped depending on the tribe of origin. While the size of the penis gourd does not reflect status in the tribe, it is often used for communication such as saluting or expressing emotions such as astonishment. The explorer Matthew Stirling notes "They indicate astonishment by clicking their gourd penis covers with their finger nails and needless to say our camp sounded like a Western Union telegraph office most of the day as almost everything we had was a wonder to them."

But Papua New-Guinea natives have nothing on the Australian natives when it comes to penis salutations. The men of the Walibri tribe of central Australia, shake each others penises when they greet, much like we shake hands in the west. You can find numerous accounts of this custom of the Walibri tribe on the web, along with other strange sexual facts also in this book...


Kevin Zelnio said...

"Unload everything at once..." thats great lol.

Hey, don't be ashamed of genitalia journalism! When it all boils down to it, its all about reproduction anyways.

Anonymous said...

Hyenas are very interesting creatures. It's a female dominated society. The female hyena is dominant males only appear to mate with the females. Something that can be dangerous considering the female is much larger and much stronger.

-~- said...

Hah aaaawesome. I can't wait to be a grad student doing the same shit