If you’ve never seen a duck penis before, ed miller the course pdf a look at the infamous video above. That long corkscrew belongs to a Muscovy duck, and it’s typical of the group. Some ducks have helical penises that are longer than their entire bodies. There are almost 10,000 species of birds and only around 3 percent of them have a penis.
These include ducks, geese and swans, and large flightless birds like ostriches and emus. But eagles, flamingos, penguins and albatrosses have completely lost their penises. So have wrens, gulls, cranes, owls, pigeons, hummingbirds and woodpeckers. Chickens still have penises, but barely—they’re tiny nubs that are no good for penetrating anything. In all of these species, males still fertilise a female’s eggs by sending sperm into her body, but without any penetration. Two dunnocks demonstrate the move in the video below.
If you blink at 00:36, you will miss it. Diane Kelly from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. Ornithologists have tied themselves in knots trying to explain why an organ that gives males an obvious selective advantage in so many different animal species disappeared in most birds. That’s where Martin Cohn came in. He wanted to know the how. His team at the University of Florida studies how limbs and genitals develop across the animal kingdom, from the loss of legs in pythons to genital deformities in humans. By comparing the embryos of a Pekin duck and a domestic chicken, Herrera and other team members showed that their genitals start developing in the same way.
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A couple of small swellings fuse together into a stub called the genital tubercle, which gradually gets bigger over the first week or so. The same process produces a mammal’s penis. In ducks, the genital tubercle keeps on growing into a long coiled penis, but in the chicken, it stops around day 9, while it’s still small. Cohn expected to find that chickens are missing some critical molecule. Instead, his team found that all the right penis-growing genes are switched on in the chicken’s tubercle, and its cells are certainly capable of growing. It never develops a full-blown penis because, at a certain point, its cells start committing mass suicide. For the chicken, it means no penis.
In the greylag goose, emu and alligator, the tubercle continues growing into a penis, with very little cell death. In the quail, a member of the same order as chickens, the tubercle’s cells also experience a wave of death before the organ can get big. This wave is driven by a protein called Bmp4, which is produced along the entire length of the chicken’s tubercle, but over much less of the duck’s. When Cohn’s team soaked up this protein, the tubercle’s cells stopped dying and carried on growing.
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