An international team of scientists has for the first time provided a detailed anatomical description of the clitoris of the female snake, a breakthrough that could lead to a better understanding of reptile evolution.
The results, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society Bcontradicts the long-held assumption that the clitoris is either absent or non-functional in snakes.
Researchers, including those from the University of Adelide in Australia, said the findings also reflect the bias in biological research whereby female genitalia are “grossly overlooked compared to their male counterparts across species. “, despite studies over the past two centuries describing in detail the anatomical structure of the pair of penises – the hemipenes – in male snakes under their scales.
“When asked, it occurred to us that scientists had never thought of doing this,” said study co-author Jenna Crowe-Riddell, of La Trobe University in Australia, in a statement.
“We are proud to contribute to this research, especially since female genitalia of all species are unfortunately still taboo,” added Megan Folwell of the University of Adelaide, who led the research.
In the study, scientists examined female genitalia – hemiclitores – in specimens of adult snakes from nine species and compared them to the genitals of adult and juvenile male snakes.
Snakes that were analyzed in the study included the death adder, Collett’s snake which is native to different parts of Australia, the Mexican ground viper found in Mexico and Central America, the puff adder in the semi-arid regions of Africa and Arabia and the Carpet Python seen in Australia and New Guinea.
The scientists used bio-imaging and dissection techniques to find the hemiclitores.
They found that “heart-shaped” snake hemiclitores are composed of nerves and red blood cells consistent with erectile tissue, suggesting that they can swell and be stimulated during mating.
“This is important because mating in snakes is often thought to involve coercion of the female – not courtship,” said Kate Sanders, another co-author of the University of Ottawa study. ‘Adelaide.
Based on the detailed analysis, scientists were able to complete a world’s first anatomical description of the clitoris in female snakes.
Although the female hemiclitore was first described in lizards in 1995, it was thought to be vestigial in some reptile species.
“When you open an anatomy textbook and imagine you have a detailed drawing of the male genitalia, for the female genitalia, there’s a whole part of it missing, basically. So we’re filling in that missing spot,” Dr Crowe said. -Riddell.
“Through our research, we have developed appropriate anatomical descriptions and labels of female snake genitalia,” Dr. Sanders added.
The new findings may lead to a better understanding of snake sex and reproduction.
While previous research has suggested that snake mating occurs primarily through coercion, the new study has suggested it may instead occur through “seduction”.
“Now that we have this anatomy, we can kind of flip the coercion hypothesis and say, well, it could be seduction and it just hasn’t really been considered for snakes. C is definitely considered for mammals,” Dr. Crowe-Riddell explained.
“I think the snakes got left out because they’re scaly and kinda weird, honestly,” she added.
The scientists believe the findings may also help to better understand the evolution and classification of these animals, including the evolution of reproduction and the ecology of snake-like reptiles, including lizards.
Research has suggested that much remains to be discovered about the anatomy of even well-studied animals, and about gender bias in zoological studies.
“This discovery shows how much science needs diverse thinkers with diverse ideas to move forward,” Dr Sanders said.