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Home Science Echidnas Have Four-Tipped Penises, And Scientists Want to Understand Why

Echidnas Have Four-Tipped Penises, And Scientists Want to Understand Why

As if Australia’s great menagerie of unusual beasties wasn’t already distinctive sufficient – with biofluorescing mammals that lay eggs and sweat milk – the pleasant weirdness extends even to their nether areas. Take an echidna’s junk, as an illustration.


I imply, simply take a look at that magnificent four-tipped monstrosity!

“They have to be quite well endowed to get around the spines,” Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary supervisor Sarah Eccleston advised the ABC again in 2016.

“Each of the rosettes (heads) do not all produce sperm at once; they use two of the heads at a time to ejaculate sperm.”

An echidna's penis. (Jane Fenelon)An echidna’s penis. (Jane Fenelon)

Past analysis recommended echidnas alternate which of the quartet of penis ends they use every time – odd habits for a mammal.

“We found internally they act like they have two penises merged together and can use them independently,” University of Melbourne developmental biologist Jane Fenelon advised ScienceAlert.

Studying injured short-beaked echidnas (Tachyglossus aculeatus) that sadly did not make it on the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary hospital, in addition to some tame sanctuary residents, Fenelon and colleagues discovered that blood circulation will be directed in direction of one aspect of their penis or the opposite. This might be how they management which half turns into erect. 

Why the animals solely use two ends of their penis at a time continues to be unclear, however the researchers suspect it took place via male competitors for females.


“By alternating the use of each side our tame echidna can ejaculate 10 times without significant pause, potentially allowing him to out-mate less efficient males,” they wrote in an announcement.

As if the animal was making an attempt to be as stubbornly distinctive as doable, as soon as ejaculated, bundles of up to 100 echidna sperms work collectively to attempt to attain an egg and grow to be an lovable little puggle.

“In most other species, sperm swim individually and it’s every sperm for themselves,” the group mentioned.

Marsupials like koalas even have multi-pronged penises – however theirs are solely forked in two. This is believed to turn out to be useful when making an attempt to get their sperm into the feminine’s twin uteruses. 

But such a function does not appear to clarify the echidna’s weird penis. When it comes to accessing the feminine’s uterus, echidnas are extra comparable to birds and reptiles than different mammals.


“All echidnas have a cloaca which is the one hole through which urine, poo and egg-laying occurs. They have separate tubes for all of these but they merge close to the exit,” defined Fenelon.

“We think the echidna penis is long enough to reach where the uterus branches off though.”

The researchers have really discovered one precedent for the echidna’s strange-shaped penis elsewhere within the animal kingdom.

“The only other animals I could find that’s similar to this are some species of turtles,” mentioned Fenelon.

“There’s some evidence that the penis in all amniotes (birds, reptiles and mammals) has the same evolutionary origin and the monotremes are a missing part of that puzzle.”

This is sensible provided that echidnas and the one different monotremes that also survive at present (platypus) share an odd mixture of mammalian, fowl, and reptilian genetics. Monotremes parted methods with the remainder of us mammals 187 million years in the past. 

“We do know that they only use their penis for mating, not urine,” Fenelon advised Australian Geographic. “Because they don’t need it for urine, they had the freedom to make it much more elaborate and this is something you see in other species that only use it for mating.”

Echidnas store their penises internally when not in use. (Jane Fenelon)Echidnas retailer their penises internally when not in use. (Jane Fenelon)

Most of the time, male echidnas preserve their flamboyant bulge tucked neatly away inside their our bodies. This permits their reproductive appendage to keep secure and clear whereas they’re busy shoveling huge quantities of filth with blade-clawed paws, foraging for ants and termites. 

Like too lots of Australia’s wildlife, these distinctive animals are below risk largely from habitat destruction, which is regarding given the large ecosystem service they supply with their soil mixing habits – enhancing soil well being, selling plant development, and trapping carbon.

Luckily, for now Australia’s echidnas are nonetheless widespread; however Papua New Guinea’s three long-beaked echidna species are endangered, so additional insights into their reproductive system may assist with their conservation.

This analysis was printed in Sexual Development.


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