Snakes have a clitoris: Scientists break down ‘a massive taboo surrounding female genitalia’ snakes

Female snakes have clitoris, scientists first found out in detail in a study of the animal’s sex organs.

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

In a study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, researchers found that snakes have two individual clitoris — hemiclitors — separated by tissue and hidden by skin on the underside of the tail.

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

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

The study’s lead author and PhD student at the University of Adelaide, Megan Folwell, said that “a massive taboo surrounding female genitalia” is a possible factor in why snake clitoris had not been described earlier. “I think it’s a combination of not knowing what to look for and not wanting to,” she said.

Hemiliter of a Death Adder
A dissection showing the hemiliters of a death adder. Photo: University of La Trobe

“Trying to find it isn’t always easy — some are extremely tiny,” Folwell said. She first dissected the clitoris in a death adder, where the organ forms a triangular shape “like a heart.”

“I was fortunate that the Death Adder had a reasonably prominent hemiliter,” Folwell said.

The study suggests that sex organs in snakes “have a functional importance in mating.” Although more research is needed on snake behavior, Folwell said the team theorized that the hemiclitors “might provide some kind of stimulation signal for vaginal relaxation and lubrication, which would help the female copulate, possibly avoiding damage from those large hemipene hooks and spines during.” prevent mating”. .

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

The researchers went on to dissect 10 snakes from nine species, including the carpet python, puff adder and Mexican moccasin.

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

The study found that the hemiclitors consist of erectile tissue that is likely to swell with blood, as well as nerve bundles that “may indicate tactile sensitivity, similar to the mammalian clitoris.”

“Now that we know this is here, we know what it looks like, we know there are cavernous bodies with nerves – we can’t help but think, ‘Why wouldn’t this be for fun?'” Crowe- riddle. “I think it’s worth opening up these questions to snakes.”

The study comes after a research summary presented earlier this year in the United States said the human clitoris has between 9,850 and 1,100 nerve fibers — about 20% more than the previously commonly cited figure of 8,000 reportedly derived from studies on cows.

– with AFP

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