Men are competing for us even after they have cum and gone (sperm competition in bats and people)

It’s true – even after a man manages to woo us, fend of the competitors and get us into the sack, the job still aint done. At this point he basically just relays the responsibility onto his sperm who continue to compete in what reproductive biologists call a “sperm competition”. For sexually monogamous couples there are no sperm competitions but when a woman cheats on her partner or if she goes on some kind of unprotected Girls Gone Wild SOCal spring break, there can be stiff competition (pun sadly intended) for sperm.

I have just begun research into sperm competition for my master’s degree. I’m studying it in regards to bats. Bats have always been of fascination to me but it wasn’t until I started learning about their sexcapades that I decided to go into major student debt over it!

You see, because many species of bat live in gigantic social groups (sometimes numbering in the hundreds of thousands) there are near unlimited opportunities for them to sleep around (or “hang out” as we Gen-Y’ers call it ..hey maybe we get this term from the bats!). Most bats also don’t believe in monogamy. Only 12 of the over 1,200 species of bat are believed to be monogamous – and with a little genetic testing, I’m convinced it’s even less than that. They tend to live either polygamously or, more commonly, like baboons where any male can mate with any female with the exception of some direct family members. For bats, every day is a SOCal spring break! At least in the breeding season, anyway.

Even more ridiculous, female bats can distend their reproductive tracts to hold huge quantities of semen which they can keep alive in their bodies for up to 200 days!! All of this adds up to a situation where sperm are competing with each other like gang busters.

What happens, then, when the sperm have to compete so much is that natural selection favours males with larger balls (that produce more sperm) in the way that if you want to win a raffle you buy more tickets. Over time, then, bat balls have evolved to absolutely vulgar proportions! In one species, the Rafinesque’s big-eared bat, the combined testes weight is 8.4% of total body weight. That’s the equivalent of a 180lb man walking around with 20lb balls! IT’S INSANITY!!

The craziest part of it, too, is that because bats have to maintain low body weights in order to fly they can’t just carry around these gigantic balls without having to pay for it somewhere else and so not surprisingly – the brains take the hit. They have actually found that the larger the balls of a bat, the smaller the brain*.

I was just thinking about all of this in the shower (as you do) and realised how ridiculous it all is. I mean in an effort to be the winner of the sperm competition, testicles only think to do one thing: produce more sperm. Even if the end result makes them dumber. Does it never occur to them to produce quicker, faster, more efficient sperm and not have to sacrifice grey matter? Nope. Well, sometimes. Occassionally, rather than producing more sperm to win the sperm competition they’ll produce bigger sperm but this really isn’t much better.

And doesn’t this just sum up men perfectly?? I mean the male agenda is always about bigger, better, more. Women on the other hand, understand value. That’s why we produce one perfect, valuable, egg rather than a million crappy ones. Not to mention why we fantasize about one perfect partner instead of a threesome …

*This doesn’t apply to flying foxes

Photo credit

The Bowerbird Archetype

The (Satin) Bowerbird Archetype

The Belief
“I want a man who is kind and understanding. Is that too much to ask of a millionaire?” ~ Zsa Zsa Gabor

The Biology
The Satin Bowerbird is a rainforest dwelling species common to Eastern Australia. It is named after the elaborate “bowers” that the males of the species build as a way to lure in and attract potential mates. The bower is made up of a thatched structure with an arch-like opening. Surrounding the structure is a collection of blue items that the male carefully collects (and in some cases, steals) and arranges thoughtfully. Common decorations include clothes pegs, blue bottle caps, and feathers. His decorating ability improves with age.

The male Bowerbird is not mature until 7 years of age (which is quite ancient for a bird) and prior to that appears much like the females with a greenish body and striped chest and legs. Upon maturity he develops a shiny dark blue plumage. Interestingly, the males with duller plumage tend to build bigger and more impressive bowers than those of bright plumage (a form of primal compensation, perhaps?)

The female Bowerbird is inherently picky. Before choosing a partner she will first snoop around the bowers of all the males in the area (but only when they are away, of course) and have a look at who has the best possessions. From there she will return to the most interesting display to meet the male. In her youth she has little interest in the personality of her mates and choses a partner based solely on his material wealth. As she matures, however, she takes more interest in the personality and charms of her potential suitors and takes particular notice of his dancing abilities. The male has no role in parenting. Both sexes have blue eyes.

The Bowerbird Man
The Bowerbird man has a reputation for being a bit of a ladies man but he means no disrespect. He simply has a love of beautiful things and women are chief among them. In his youth he isn’t what you would call a “man’s man” (or in Australia, a “blokey bloke”). In fact, he is often quite androgynous-looking in his younger years and it is generally not until midlife that he comes fully into his sense of self. As he matures further and transitions into old age he seems to defy the traditional laws of attraction and becomes increasingly appealing to his intended mates. This is often, though, the result of his status moreso than his looks. It is no wonder that Viagra is coloured blue – the most favourite colour of the Bowerbird.

He avoids commitment like the plague. It is not that he doesn’t think his mates are worthy of his undivided attention or that he feels there is something wrong with them – quite the contrary. He just doesn’t understand the point of settling down with one person when there are so many others to explore. Indeed, he is forever meeting new women as he is a regular at the local night club (or whatever local watering hole is most hip) and is never afraid to invite a beautiful woman for a dance.

The Bowerbird’s financial status also tends to improve as he matures but he must be careful not to lose it with his habit of extreme over spending. His home is large and an obvious display of his wealth (or perceived wealth). He regularly drops large sums of money on status items such as cars, electronics, designer clothing, and of course satin sheets! If he is generally unattractive he is even more prone to excess. If unable to pay for this lifestyle through traditional means he will stop at nothing short of lying, cheating, and stealing to maintain his reputation and hold onto his assets. Indeed, many a Bowerbird has been done for insider trading!

The greatest fear of the male Bowerbird is that one day he might lose all the pomp and circumstance he has built up around him. If there is one lesson he would be wise to learn, it is that “there is no use trying to keep up with the Jones’. They’re broke!

The Bower Bird Woman
The Bowerbird woman only wants the best – and why wouldn’t she? She knows that when it comes to love and romance it’s a seller’s market – and she is the hot commodity. She’s known as the “party girl” and the “single and fabulous” girl but her friends worry sometimes that she is too picky when it comes to relationships. They wish that she would give a good, honest guy a chance and not just be constantly rushing home with whoever has the flashiest car. And perhaps they are right but you see it is not the Bowerbird’s nature to be monogamous – or to settle for second rate. She is a chaser of excitement and rich men are often the gateway to an exciting life.

She loves a man who will take her to fancy restaurants, society parties, theatre openings, and who (of course) has an incredible home to use as a kind of adults only theme park. This does not mean, though, that she is shallow and only concerned with material possessions. She isn’t. In fact, the female Bowerbird usually lives in a very modest home. You see, it is not in the owning of items that she is satisfied. She is, instead, looking for the experience of being in the presence of beauty and excitement. Having said that, though, a Bowerbird woman is never going to turn down a gift. She is particularly fond of Sapphires but only if they are quality stones. She knows junk jewellery when she sees it and will not take well to being given something that belongs in a gum ball machine.

An amazing transformation takes place for the Bowerbird woman as she begins to reach the far end of mid-life. Suddenly the thrill of luxury living lessons a bit and she starts to yearn for an emotional or even spiritual connection with a mate. Instead of craving the rush of a packed trendy night club she finds herself looking forward to living room slow dances with a special man that she can have an honest conversation with. If when she arrives at this point in life she finds herself in a rich but loveless marriage she will likely end the relationship and begin looking (probably for the first time) for love. She still, though, would never be caught dead with a postal worker or man of similarly limited means. She is still a Bowerbird, after all!

The Bower Bird / Bower Bird Couple
It is rare for two Bower Birds to pair up as they are both hesitant to limit themselves to a single person and prefer to flutter around amongst a collection of lovers. If they do get together they will likely maintain separate homes for many years into the relationship and it will take a long time for them to become “exclusive”. They might even prefer to be in a long distance relationship, coming together for only short periods periodically throughout the year. In this instance she will either fly to him or the two of them will jet off together to enjoy high end, luxury vacations. They will likely enjoy boating and beach holidays where there is nothing to see but the sparkling blue hues of the ocean and sky – and very often, each other’s eyes.

If they do eventually come to share a home it will be the epitome of style and taste. Theirs will be the nicest home on the block in the nicest block in town. Their flare for style may even attract the attention of home and lifestyle magazines. They must be very careful, though, not to let their love of luxury catapult them into bankruptcy court!

The Bower Bird / Other Archetype Couple
It is important to remember that rarely do either male or female Bower Birds feel that monogamy is natural. Trying to force it upon them will likely ruffle their feathers. This isn’t to say that they won’t want to become monogamous to you at some stage buy most assuredly, nagging and pleading will not get you there any faster. Their distain of monogamy is not personal and it is desperately important for you to not take offence. It is simply their nature to remain free an unattached. If you are dating a Bower Bird you would be wise to keep your options open and not put too much heed on the potential that you see. Keep in mind, though, that most humans do tend to evolve through many archetypes over the course of their life so don’t be surprised if by treating your Bower Bird well he/she suddenly turns into a swan.

Famous Bowerbirds
Zsa Zsa Gabor, Hugh Hefner, The Great Gatsby (although he was a Bower Bird/Swan hybrid)

More like this:
Intro to Animal Archetypes
The Tape Worm Archetype
The Flying Fox Archetype

Ducks – heartless rapists or evolutionary geniuses?

When I was a wildlife student at the University of Washington, I used to walk past the school’s iconic Drumheller Fountain each morning on the way to class. The fountain was home to a small community of ducks and in the springtime they would come to life with a multitude of elaborate “courtship rituals.” To me the term “courtship” evokes images of young people in love – hand holding on park benches, candlelit dinners, that sort of a thing. It is, as I understand it, an institution where ladies are ladies and gentlemen are gentlemen. “Courtship”, then, I do not believe is an accurate description for what happens in the duck world because the things I have very unfortunately witnessed at the UW and in waterways around the world have no relation to anything a proper gentleman would ever consider doing to the lady of his affection – especially in a public fountain.

To cut to the chase, let me first explain that in the bird kingdom is it quite unique to have a phallus. 97% of bird species, in fact, lack a phallus and reproduce by a process known as the “cloacal kiss”. I, however, have always called this process “projectile ejaculation” because far more is involved than is possible in a kiss – at least not any kiss I have ever experienced. In projectile ejaculation, male and female birds press their cloacas (multi-function holes) together and the male, in a moment of passion, squirts a fertile geyser into the female. I’ll admit this all sounds rather repulsive but for many species, the minutes, hours, and in some cases, days leading up to this act are actually full of quite stunning displays – romantic even. Bald Eagles, for instance, as part of their courtship rituals perform magical acrobatics in the sky. They circle the clouds like ballroom dancers and hold each other tightly while spiraling downwards through the trees in an incredible display of affection. For ducks, however, part of that 3% of bird species that do carry a phallus, love making is something altogether different.

In the duck world, rape (or if you are scientist, “forced copulation”) is a fact of life. It seems to be as normal an act as reading the Sunday paper or going for a jog after work. It’s common practice for a male, or sometimes a group of males, to chase after and pounce an unsuspecting female, hold her head under water and while nearly drowning her, force himself violently into her. It’s not pretty and the females never seem to enjoy themselves, as you would quite expect. To maintain some semblance of control in this rather distressing state of affairs, female ducks have evolved a couple of brilliant adaptations.

In the female mallard, one of the species where rape is particularly common, the vagina has evolved into a virtual labyrinth complete with twist turns, dead ends, and special sacs that will hold semen, preventing it from traveling to the egg. It is believed that these alternate routes are activated when the female tenses up (ie when being mounted by an irritating or unattractive male). If, however, she finds herself later on in the company of a male to whom she has taken a particular liking, she will then relax her muscles and the labyrinth transforms to straight shot to Georgia. Unfortunately, however, the males in this story have raised the stakes and have evolved alongside the girls a fairly frightening looking corkscrew shaped phallus to navigate the maze.

Ever since witnessing the springtime horrors of Drumheller fountain and coming to learn about the extraordinary adaptations female ducks have evolved in response to the thoughtless men in their lives I have been searching to discover the meaning in it all. Could it be the power inherent in a phallus is all too much for ducks and has sent the males on a crazy power trip? Or is it simply that because ducks have so few examples in the bird kingdom of appropriate phallus use to look to that they simply have no idea what to do? Or is it a bigger issue all together?

The jury is still out on this one people but I would love to hear your theories.