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May 01, 2007



Pretty darned weird genitals them ducks have. I especialy find it odd that the duck penis apparently re-grows every year and then shrivels away.


Wasn't that odd indeed. I had exactly the same thought -- surely there are textbooks with anatomical drawings of dissected ducks dating back to 1830, let alone the modern editions. What, do the engravings go all pixilated over the girl-ducks' crotches?

belle waring

oh, Matt, why must you reenact the fatal obsession/incuriousity of the male scientists?


It's even harder to believe that substantially new anatomical work could be done on the *human* clitoris as late as the late 1990s... but search for Helen O'Connell's work and you'll find repeated claims that she was the first person to really investigate the large internal structure of the clitoris... ever. I've often wondered how true this can possibly be, but her press coverage says it.

See http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/5013866.stm for an example.


I've read that before, and again, WTF?


The feminine is supposed to be mysterious, guys.


Many of us (male) scientists wondered about the female anatomy once the male anatomy was published on, but we could not just go out of our fields to a conmpletely new field in order to test our hunches. We have hunches about every paper we read every day, after all, but have to make a decision what to focus on in our own research.

I was stunned that McCracken never thought of it and then admitted of never thinking of it - he should have been the guy with the scalpel even before his Nature paper came out about the duck phallus.

Almost all of today's biology students are shunted into molecular biology. The rest do ecology (mostly math). Precious few do the organismal stuff any more. Just because the domestic duck was described a long time ago does not mean that every duck species is the same, but in the absence of counterfactual evidence, that is the parsimonious view to take.

belle waring

I love the internet. an actual scientist is explaining why everyone was too busy to do this. awesome! (and coturnix, I appreciate your point that reading a paper which seems to have a big hole in it...or...not to have a big hole in it, or something, does not mean dropping eveything to dissect daisy duck. nonetheless...)


Hey, remember the Molly Ringwald vehicle from 1984, Sixteen Candles? There's a character in it named Long Duk Dong. Which suggests that John Hughes was more of a polymath than I'd thought.

chris y

Coturnix reminds me that I've often thought there should be a site (probably moderated) somewhere where people (scientists) could post "why isn't somebody looking at X", and other people could respond either: "They have [citation]" or "Because it's a rubbish idea" or "Hey, I'll pass that on to one of my students".

The more I read about other animals' sexual arrangements, the happier I am to be human.


well, you know -- the female anatomy is just the same as the males, but minus parts.... sigh.

it is a pretty striking oversight, though. for the record, for those citing decades of anatomical drawings and the like, I think this is a pretty small subset of ducks, so your average mallard wouldn't have raised a question...

Lillet Langtry

What kills me about this is one would ASSUME that these male researchers would be familiar with the co-evolutionary history suggested by Charles Darwin: the orchid Angraecum sesquipedale has a foot-long throat with nectar available only at the very bottom -- Darwin postulated that some sort of insect must have evolved with a proboscis long enough to engage with the nectar -- and lo! later on someone discovered that the giant hawk moth HAD such a proboscis. I believe similar relationships were found between other species of orchids and hummingbirds.

Anyway, I'm a musician, not a scientist, and *I* know this shit. WTF??

belle waring

The more I read about other animals' sexual arrangements, the happier I am to be human.

so true. some types of female animals just get raped all the time, which I find disturbing. red in tooth and claw etc. not sure why this should occasion more melancholy in me than the whole 'getting devoured live by predators' bit, but it seems unsporting for your own species to do you wrong like that.

belle waring

also, I don't feel like enough people are laughing at my "first bird-to-human transmission" joke. I'm grumpy.laugh, internet minions!! aw, heck, I'm going to bed.

Matt Weiner

I'm totally laughing, Belle! Also I fixed your link. Having read the caption I'm trying to come up with a Peking Duck joke but it's not happening.


I saw a duck get gang-raped once in the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. I did indeed. Three or four male ducks converged on a female and held her down while one of them did the deed. I stopped dead in my tracks, not believing I was seeing what I was seeing until another couple rounded the path and the look of Holy Shit in their eyes confirmed it.


Ducks are just all around weird. (came from Feministe, btw)



Sorry the link didn't come through.


Another Damned Medievalist

OK, One, that's just frakkin' weird. Two, I don not feel better knowing that the duck sex I thought looked like duck rape were actually duck rape. Three, I'm so posting this shit on LJ.


You know, bella, the reason why I found the the growing and dying penis weird is that I've already read a bunch of stuff that makes the other stuff seem not weird (like works by Elizabeth Lloyd and Fausto-Sterling and the like). But I've never heard about the other thing, and it is pretty weird. So please don't project not knowing abou this sort of stuff on to me. And it's a bit silly to talk about 'rape' in animals, and pernisious, too, since it's a product of some bad sociobiology, really. Again, you might try reading some work by Elizabeth Lloyd.

belle waring

calm down, Matt, I was just funnin' you. no offense intended.

Julian Elson

It's a good thing human males don't rape human females, isn't it?


Next time I insult you remember that it's all just in good fun, too.

The Modesto Kid

Touchy, touchy!


Matt reads Fausto-Sterling!

I LOVE Fausto-Sterling!

Yaaaay, Matt!


It's not just duck anatomy that scientists fall down on. In 2003 it was confirmed (at the University of Saskatchewan!) that women ovulate more than once per month. Did it seriously take us until the 21st century to figure this out?


It never fails to amaze me how human males can be so ignorant of ANY female genitals when they spend two-thirds of their adult lives (they're asleep for the other third) trying to crawl up inside the damned things.

I'm not at all shocked that most biologists know nothing about girl duck cooter. Most of them think HUMAN females pee out of our vaginas. o_O

fed up

"some types of female animals just get raped all the time, which I find disturbing."

may I just point out that this would never happen if ducks were more modest in their attire and more lady-like in their demeanour?


[Dr. McCracken, who discovered the longest known bird phallus on an Argentine duck in 2001]

what a way to make a living.


by the way, I liked the jokes but if I had been writing it I would haev made some reference to Dr Niels Hoggrut, who carried out the most intensive study to date into the structure and anatomy of the human vagina and who lost two of his fingers after having them bitten off by a particularly lively specimen he was examining in Charing Cross.

belle waring

well, that's why you get paid actual money to blog, while the rest of us...


"OK, sexism...what? No, really, what?"

This is just too eager. Granted, Zimmer nodded in that direction.

Kevin McCracken is an evolutionary population geneticist. He doesn't do scalpel stuff. So this biologist happens to observe a duck penis that is half a meter long, a rare thing, since most birds don't even have intromittent organs (what, sexism? and females of those species still have cloaca because it's also the intestinal track and wtf does a clitoris have to do with this?) and sees a quick Nature report. It's a half page report that ends with the paragraph: "Many questions remain unanswered. How much of his penis does the drake actually insert, and does the anatomy of the female's oviducts make them unusually difficult to inseminate? The Argentine lake duck offers a sizeable opportunity to study sexual selection and sperm competition in birds."

This generates interest and application for research money and in the normal course of events, the female anatomy is described and in greater detail than the male. Hooray.
What, sexism?

I suppose one could make a point that the male anatomy was reported in Nature while the followup study was published in PLOS. Whatever.

About 1/3 of matings in waterfowl are forced matings, btw.

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