Tuesday, July 17, 2012

No orifice necessary?

So, last Thursday, my education on sea slugs continued. I'm going to have to get a book, because there just isn't enough time before we play or between songs in flute choir for my friend Diane (the sea slug specialist) to give me the beginner's introduction to sea slugs lecture that I (without realizing it) really want.

Also, for the record: any errors in what I'm about to write are purely the result of my lack of understanding and/or ignorance. She's a scientist, and I'm confident that she relayed all this information to me accurately. If I screw up any facts it's because I'm not a good student. I tried to follow up on the things she mentioned briefly that really interested me by doing some quick Internet research, so again, any errors are purely my own fault (or the fault of the websites I consulted; all information from the Internet has a link for follow up if necessary).

Anyway, proving that I am forever immature, last week I asked her about the whole "violent mating" business that was mentioned on the website she sent me to  (http://instructional1.calstatela.edu/pkrug/lab/; now, taking a second look, I'm not seeing that anymore. Hmmm. I wonder if it was removed because of something I said? I hope not. I think it's interesting, and not because I'm lech, I just think it's interesting).

This is what I learned:

The sea slugs she's studying are hermaphrodites. Unlike Scout Finch, who, after all, was what? Seven years old?, I happen to know what a hermaphrodite is. Here's my definition (then I'm going to look it up to make sure I got it right):

A hermaphrodite possesses both male and female sexual organs.

Maybe not scientifically complete but I think that's about it. It's not that complicated of a concept, even for me.

So, okay, no biggie, right? Sure, except these slugs (or some of them?) don't decide who will take which role by politely discussing it. When they're ready to go, they are ready to go, and they both want dominance. Their male sex organ, which, by the way, emerges from the right side of their heads, is more like a weapon, sort of, and they fight each other to figure out which one shall be the giver, and which one shall be the receiver. They just start poking each other. They don't have a target, either: they do it through the skin. Hence the title of today's post (did you really need a "hence" statement? No? sorry).

Here's a scientific explanation, from here:
Hypodermic insemination, in which sperm is injected through the partner's body surface, is also widespread, particularly among the Sacoglossa. Many species with hypodermic insemination have developed special penis armature, such as a sharp stylet. In some species, sperm is injected through the body surface directly into the receptive organs while in others injection can take place anywhere into the partner's body.
So, here are two words together that should never ever be together, at least not in my experience: "penis armature." Armature sounds... painful. No thanks. I'm not kinky like that.

From freedictionary.com:
2. Biology A protective covering, structure, or organ of an animal or a plant, such as teeth, claws, thorns, or the shell of a turtle.
Also, "sharp stylet" - another two words I would prefer to not have describing my partner's sex organ. I don't even need to turn to the dictionary - I can get quite a good mental image from the words themselves.

Finally, Diane explained to me that these slugs are pretty small - less than an inch. I looked at the beautiful photographs on the website she sent me to, and imagined these guys as big winged banana slugs (banana slugs can get to be half a foot long). I guess there are some sea slugs that are that big (and please God, may I never meet a slug that big, either on land or in the ocean), but those are not the ones she's studying. The ones she's studying are tiny, and in fact, one of the ways scientists like her find them is by using their sense of smell. I'm going to have to ask her about this some more, but she mentioned that when she goes up north to study them, she can smell them (and it's a pleasant smell; I read somewhere that some slugs smell like watermelon. Diane suggested that they smell "floral"). I want to find out more about this next. When I do, you can bet I'll be sharing it with you, too.

Like it or not.

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