Birds do it, bees do it, bonobos do a lot of it

[Article about animal sexual behavior, first published in the Carleton CLAP 4/24/2009]

“There was an old miner named Dave
Who kept a dead whore in his cave.
You have to admit
He hadn’t much wit
But look at the money he saved!”

This limerick is the namesake of Davian behavior, in which animals live and copulate with deceased mates. Yes, inspired by Isabella Rossellini’s recent short film series Green Porno (viewable on the Sundance Channel’s website or on YouTube), here’s a handy guide to animal sex, taken mostly from Wikipedia’s article on “Animal sexual behavior“:

-Masturbation: horses (even when castrated), goats, camels, elephants, walruses, zebras, killer whales, vampire bats, etc.
-Mutual masturbation: bears and hyenas
-Autofellatio: kangaroos, bonobos, squirrel monkeys
-Sex toys: porcupines, ferrets, orangutans
-Homosexuality: giraffes, penguins, cattle, bonobos, sheep, dolphins, dragonflies, etc.
-Rape: dolphins, spiders, ducks, water beetles, elephants
-Pedophilia: moles, stoats, hyenas, bonobos
-Necrophilia: ducks, toads, squirrels

[Etc. = pretty much everybody does it. This list is far from exhaustive.]

Apparently the generally accepted term is “sexual cannibalism,” but I still prefer using “connubial cannibalism” to refer to the tendency, especially of female mantises, to bite off their mates’ heads in the midst of coitus. It’s nutritional, too! As we learn from Prete and Hurd’s enlightening text The Praying Mantids,

males are renowned for their ability to initiate copulation while being eaten. The organization of a mantid’s central nervous system will allow both copulation and spermatophore transfer in the absence of descending input from the cephalic ganglia.

In other words? Male mantids can fuck without brains. When you’re dealing with bedbugs, the phrase “All sex is rape” takes on a whole new meaning. Like a number of other invertebrates, they practice “traumatic insemination”: instead of simple genital-to-genital contact, the male uses his penis to pierce the female’s abdominal cavity and inject his sperm. Bedbugs conveniently evolved an organ called the spermalege, designed specifically as a sexual target for the male, but females of other species are not so lucky and have to deal with the health consequences of this brutal penetration.

The more we know about animal sex, the more we know about ourselves (maybe?). After all, Freud himself spent his early years in medical school studying the sex organs of eels. Moral of the story? Bonobos are some polymorphously perverse little apes.

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