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Saturday, July 10, 2010

A New Milton Berle Of The Undersea Kingdom

Blushing scientists say the male deepwater Greater Hooked Squid (variously known as the Moroteuthis ingens or the Onykia ingens because of a taxonomic squabble) has a giant penis that he proudly shows off at even the most awkward of moments. BBC's Earth News crew explains:
The male squid's sexual organ is almost as long as its whole body, including the squid's mantle, head and arms.
Turns out an individual actually got erect and ejaculated after a dissection had begun. So they're kinda twisted, too.

BBC goes on to quote Dr. Alexander Arkhipkin of the Falkland Islands Government Fisheries Department, one of those who made the discovery and reported it in the "Journal of Molluscan Studies" (that's his photo, above, of The Beast unleashed; the penis is at bottom):
"When the mantle of the squid was opened for maturity assessment, we witnessed an unusual event.

"The penis of the squid, which had extended only slightly over the mantle margin, suddenly started to erect, and elongated quickly to 67cm total length, almost the same length as the whole animal."
But there's more to the story than schlong envy. With protective mantles covering much of their bodies, it's been a bit of a mystery how male deepwater squid inseminate females (shallow-water species just, um -- I'll let explain). Well, if the Greater Hooked Squid is indicative (no puerile pun intended) of other deepwater species, we have our answer:
That shows how male deep-sea squid inseminate females; they use their huge penis to shoot out packages of sperm, injecting them into the female's body.

The discovery may also help explain how giant squid mate in the ocean depths.
I should add that it might also explain how they attract the ladies at depth in the first place.

Aside from almost inevitably spawning a bustling Chinese trade in squid penises, the discovery earns these prodigiously endowed cephalopods the honor of best-hung moving creatures in the animal kingdom.

"Moving?" you ask. That's right, because, well, have you ever wondered why barnacles just pick any old spot and then stay there for the rest of their lives (like the guys reclining on the banquettes in the back of the dance club)? To be fair, evolutionarily speaking, I guess barnacles' penises were actually lengthening in response to their sessile lifestyles, rather than vice-versa (unlike the guys on the banquettes).

But whichever the case, ugly, shrimp-like recluses that they are, barnacles are the true Milton Berles of the animal world. There's an amusing passage about it in Rebecca Stott's riveting book about Charles Darwin's efforts to cut his scientific teeth through extensive work with barnacles, called "Darwin and the Barnacle" (p. 220):
The minute Arthrobalanus males also had quite the largest genitalia he had ever seen in the barnacle world, he wrote in the manuscript, allowing himself a rarely used exclamation mark:
the probosciformed penis is wonderfully developed, so that in Cryptophialus, when fully extended, it must equal between eight and nine times the entire length of the animal! These males...consist of a mere bag, lined by a few muscles, enclosing an eye, and attached at the lower end by the pupal antennae, it has an orifice at its upper end, and within it there lies coiled up, like a great worm, the probosciformed penis...
Talk about the descent of man.

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