Male guppy (Image: Wikimedia Commons)
In the animal kingdom, all bets are off when it comes to sexual congress. It's a fucked up, perverse but not necessarily deviant world. Female praying mantises copulate, then occasionally decapitate their male partners. Male bed bugs impale their female counterparts, while the male bee's penis explodes inside the queen bee. It's all really suitable for a David Cronenberg film. Now, we find out that the male guppy uses its genital claws to prevent female flight. This kind of destroys the image of the noble, tiny and rather elegant guppy.
According to University of Toronto evolutionary biologists, the male guppy grows claws on its gonopodium (anal fin) to counteract sexually-selective females. The male is all about quantity, not quality; so it wants to keep the female guppy around long enough to deliver his seed.
“Our results show that the claws are used to increase sperm transfer to females who are resisting matings,” said Lucia Kwan, PhD candidate in U of T’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, in a press release. “This suggests that it has evolved to benefit males at the expense of females, especially when their mating interests differ.”
Kwan, along with former graduate student Yun Yun Cheng and two faculty members, Helen Rodd and Locke Rowe, tested two ideas: the role the genital claws play in positioning the sperm at the tip of the gonopodium, and whether the claws helped restrain resistant females to ensure sperm delivery. The researchers utilized a phenotypic engineering approach. To put that in layman's terms, they controlled the delivery of sperm. They did this by surgically removing the claws, then comparing the amount of sperm transferred to females to that of males who had not been declawed. Both sets were exposed to receptive and unreceptive females.
“Clawed males transferred up to three times more sperm to unreceptive females compared to declawed males,” said Kwan. “The claw has evolved to benefit the males at the expense of females, and implicates sexual conflict between the sexes in the diversification of the genitalia in this family of fish. This provides support that this important selective force is behind an evolutionary pattern that evolutionary biologists have been trying to unravel for over a century.”
While certainly interesting, the fact is the guppy's genital claws aren't even the most disturbing sexual member or aspect of aquatic sexual ritual. For example, did you know all cats have barbed penises? But since we're talking guppies, we'll stick to the water. Here are a few other odd and violent sexual practices from aquatic life that will give you pause. Thank the heavens that humans can't pull this shit off.
Of all mating rituals in the aquatic kingdom, the Angler Fish's sexual union is probably the most mindbending and disgusting. If humans could manage this sort of reproduction, it would be the stuff of nightmares.
When a male Angler Fish, which is far smaller than females, finds its mate, it bites her skin and unleashes enzymes that dissolve the skin of its mouth as well the female's skin. This act fuses the mates' blood vessels. Now a parasite-host situation, the male gives the female sperm, while the female feeds the male. This is to his advantage, because he cannot survive for long in the absence of a female. Imagine humans achieving a similar sexual-existential symbiosis. It's terrifying.
Platyhelminthes, or flatworms, are hermaphrodites. When two members of the species of flatworm known as Pseudobiceros hancockanus (not making this shit up) meet, they do a peculiar dance: they whip out their penises like pirates, then try to stab each other with them. The winner becomes the male, while the loser becomes the female. But, really, all seem to benefit in this arrangement.
Dana Octopus Squid
Taningia danae, or the Dana Octopus Squid, is unique in that the male uses its beak and claws to tear open its female counterpart. According to National Geographic, the male then inserts a penis-like appendage into the two-inch deep cuts and deposits its sperm packets, or spermatophores.
Evolutionarily speaking, it's rather odd that this species of squid didn't just develop a permanent receptacle for sperm. But, in this case, one must assume that tearing open and ejaculating into cuts must be the most efficient means of reproduction. Still, it's pretty ultra-violent.