"Imagine giving birth through a penis"

Forgive the title, folks. But inspired by a link, I decided to yellowize the blog up a bit.

And why not? As things are, I'm so burned out on human politics that a slight change of pace (to hyena politics) seems very much in order.

Whether you're into traditional values or tend towards more radical feminist gender-bending stuff, and whether you see things from a human-speciesist or from an anthropomorphic perspective, the hyena lifestyle is interesting and challenging. Alpha females run the show:

Unlike most mammalian societies, female spotted hyenas run the show and are significantly more muscular and aggressive than males. After studying hyenas in Kenya for nearly two decades, researchers discovered that in the final stages of pregnancy, high-ranking females provide their developing offspring with higher levels of androgen--a male sex hormone associated with aggression--than lower-ranking mothers provide to their developing young.

This is the first study to show that a mother's social status, and not just her genetic makeup, can directly affect her offspring's observable physical characteristics.

Wow. That sounds almost neo-Lamarckian! What I'd really like to know is whether the female would stop providing the higher androgen levels if she lost social standing.

After all, it's a hyena-eat-hyena world out there.

Aggressiveness is a good attribute for a creature living in a society where 40 to 60 individuals scrap over food, and especially for females requiring extra energy for developing offspring.

By infusing her developing young with androgen, the mother increases the likelihood that her genetic information will survive.

There's a paradox, though. By becoming more masculine, the females gain a certain genetic advantage, but that androgynous glass ceiling carries a heavy price in that she's less likely to conceive. The alpha female clitoris becomes more and more penis-like, which makes things tougher for male hyenas!
....providing the extra hormones takes a toll on the mother. The dose of androgen that she received from her own alpha mother damages her ovaries, making it difficult to conceive.

It also causes female reproductive organs to grow. A lot. Her clitoris, which contains the birthing canal, protrudes 7 inches from her body.

"Imagine giving birth through a penis," said study co-author Kay Holekamp of Michigan State University. "It's really weird genitalia, but it seems to work. Although giving birth through a 'penis' isn't a trivial problem."

The clitoris' birth canal is only an inch in diameter, and the tissue often tears as a 2-pound cub squeezes through the narrow opening. The rip can be fatal, as evidenced by the high death rate for first-time mothers.

Practice makes perfect

Because of the female's awkward genitalia, successful mating for hyenas is tricky to pull off. It takes careful positioning for the male to crouch behind her and somehow get his penis to point up and backwards to enter her clitoris.

"Males need practice. After a couple of months of practicing, they get it lined up just right," Holekamp told LiveScience.

I think that's very chivalrous of the males.

(Lesser animals would resort to female circumcision, you know....)

posted by Eric on 05.11.09 at 01:47 PM


Just wanted to say HI. I found your blog a few days ago and have been reading it over the past few days.

runescape accounts   ·  May 12, 2009 4:35 AM

Perhaps I should pay more attention to comments. Yours seems to be generic in nature and links to a commercial site. I don't see why I should provide you with free advertising, do you?

If you don't answer, I might remove the link you provided.

Eric Scheie   ·  May 12, 2009 11:08 AM

I always remove such comments. Of course if I did what you did and commented on such a comment, removing the link would work very well.

M. Simon   ·  May 12, 2009 11:18 AM

No doubt this is taxpayer-funded science...

Bill Johnson   ·  May 12, 2009 11:20 AM

No doubt this is taxpayer-funded science...

Anonymous   ·  May 12, 2009 11:20 AM

No doubt this is taxpayer-funded science...

Bill Johnson   ·  May 12, 2009 11:21 AM

The link has been removed.

Eric Scheie   ·  May 12, 2009 11:37 AM

There was the recent news that that the oldest human hair fossil was found in fossil hyena dung.

Apparently, the hyenas of the era regarded hominids as crunchy.

Joseph Hertzlinger   ·  May 14, 2009 12:57 AM

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