scientists overcome “huge taboo around female genitals”

Female snakes have clitoris, scientists have detailed for the first time in a study of the animal’s sex organs.

Scientists say previous research had mistaken the organs for scent glands or underdeveloped versions of penises, in a study that criticized the relatively limited research on female sex organs.

In a study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, researchers found that snakes had two individual clitoris – the hemiclitores – separated by tissue and hidden by skin under the tail.

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“Female genitalia are conspicuously neglected compared to their male counterparts, limiting our understanding of sexual reproduction across vertebrate lineages,” the study authors wrote.

Male snakes and lizards are known to have hemipenes – a pair of penises that are turned outside the body during reproduction. In many species, the hemipenes are covered with spines or hooks.

The study’s lead author and PhD student at the University of Adelaide, Megan Folwell, said “a huge taboo around female genitalia” was a potential factor in why snake clitoris hadn’t been described earlier. “I think it’s a combination of not knowing what to look for and not wanting,” she said.

“Trying to find it isn’t always the easiest thing – some are extremely small,” Folwell said. She first dissected the clitoris of a death viper, whose organ forms a triangle “like a heart”.

“I was lucky that the death adder had a reasonably prominent hemiclitor,” Folwell said.

The study suggests that sex organs “have functional significance in mating” in snakes. Although more research into snake behavior is needed, Folwell said the team hypothesized that hemiclitores “might provide some sort of stimulation signal for vaginal relaxation and lubrication, which would help the female in copulation to potentially prevent damage from these large hemipene hooks and spines during mating”.

“It could also signal the ovaries to ovulate and the oviduct to potentially prepare for sperm storage,” she added.

The researchers then dissected 10 snakes from nine species, including the carpet python, viper and Mexican moccasin.

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“Some of the clitoris are quite muscular and large – for example vipers – but they are really thin, elongated and small in some other snakes,” said study co-author and postdoctoral researcher Dr Jenna Crowe-Riddell. neuroecology at La Trobe University. Sizes ranged from less than one millimeter to seven millimeters.

The study found that the hemiclitores are composed of erectile tissue that likely swells with blood, as well as nerve bundles that “may indicate tactile sensitivity, similar to the mammalian clitoris.”

“Now that we know it’s here, we know what it looks like, we know there’s erectile tissue with nerves – we can’t help but think: why wouldn’t it be for fun ?” said Crowe-Riddel. “I think it’s worth opening these questions to snakes.”

The study comes after a research abstract presented in the US earlier this year said the human clitoris had between 9,850 and 1,100 nerve fibers, about 20% more than the already widely reported 8,000. quoted, which would come from research carried out on cows. .

– with AFP

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