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Honey badger has a penis bone shaped like an 'ice cream scooper' that clears out its rivals' semen


The honey badger may have evolved a penis bone that can scoop out rivals’ semen and ensure their paternity after mating.

Most mammals – including cats, dogs, mice, and bears – have a bone inside their penis, called the baculum.

Humans are one of only a few primates to have lost their baculum over the course of evolution.

Researchers in the UK comparing dozens of mammal penis bones theorize that, in some species, they help with ‘postcopulatory sexual competition.’

Honey badgers are non-monogamous and females may have sperm from various males vying to fertilize her egg.

The scoop-like baculum could be how a male ensures victory, but scientists hope to film honey badger genitals during copulation to confirm their theory. 

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The honey badger may have evolved a penis bone that can scoop out rivals' semen and ensure their paternity after mating

The honey badger may have evolved a penis bone that can scoop out rivals’ semen and ensure their paternity after mating 

Honey badgers are non-monogamous and females may have sperm from various males vying to fertilize her egg

Honey badgers are non-monogamous and females may have sperm from various males vying to fertilize her egg 

Strangely, the most complex penis bones were found among mammals considered socially monogamous.

Simpler, straighter bacula were associated with animals that don’t forge long-term partnerships, according to their report in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

But many socially monogamous females breed with other males besides than their primary partner, according to lead author Charlotte Brassey, a zoologist at the Manchester Metropolitan University.

If a female breeds with more than one male during a mating season, those males are in competition to fertilize her eggs.

Different animals have developed various strategies to ensure their sperm come out on top, a situation known as postcopulatory sexual competition.

The zebra longwing butterfly, for example, excretes a mating plug that blocks the females from future insemination.

A 3D x-ray image of a honey badger baculum. Researchers at Manchester Metropolitan University examined the bacula of 82 carnivorous species, including dogs, lions, bears, walruses and otters

A 3D x-ray image of a honey badger baculum. Researchers at Manchester Metropolitan University examined the bacula of 82 carnivorous species, including dogs, lions, bears, walruses and otters

Images of bacula from various mammals, including the honey badger, European otter, meerkat and Golden jackal illustrate their diverse size and shape

Images of bacula from various mammals, including the honey badger, European otter, meerkat and Golden jackal illustrate their diverse size and shape

According to Brassey, many mammals have evolved penis bones to help ensure their sperm are the ones that succeed.

Brassey’s team used 3D X-ray imaging comparing the bacula of 82 carnivorous species, including dogs, lions, bears, walruses and otters.

In the honey badger, native to Africa, India and Southwest Asia, the spoon-like shape of the penis tip may be used to displace sperm already in the cervix.

The honey badger’s baculum even looks like an ice cream scoop, Brassey told New Scientist. ‘It really seems to just be designed to scoop out other sperm and then cup the cervix.’

Brassey hopes to film the honey badgers’ genitals during copulation to confirm her thesis.

Brassey hopes to film the honey badgers' genitals during copulation to confirm her thesis

Brassey hopes to film the honey badgers’ genitals during copulation to confirm her thesis

Other bacula seem to have evolved to play different roles during mating.

The black bear’s long, thin penis bone may allow for lengthier copulation, according to earlier research by Brassey and her colleagues, while other bacula may induce ovulation in the female. 

Males with wider penis bones, like house mice, have been shown to sire more offspring.

More research needs to be done into how baculum are used during and after sex, Brassey says.

‘Penis bones are notable for being extremely diverse in shape, with species being distinguished by possessing bizarre tips, ridges and grooves,’ she wrote in Newsweek in 2018. 

‘Yet in the past, biologists have only included the most basic metrics (bone length and diameter) into their models of baculum function,’ and ignored the significance of shape. 

WHAT ANIMALS HAVE PENIS BONES AND WHY DO THEY HAVE THEM? 

Most mammals have a unique bone called a baculum – also know as a penis bone, penile bone or os penis – in their penis. 

The only mammal species without baculum are humans, horses, donkeys, rhinoceros, marsupials, rabbits, cetaceans (the marine family that includes whales and dolphins), elephants and hyenas.

Baculum are present in cats, dogs, most primates, rodents and seals.

The bone is kept in the abdomen and, when needed, a set of muscles push it into a sheath in the fleshy part of the penis.

It enters within the erectile tissue, providing rigidness to aid during the copulation. 

The penis bone varies in size and shape by species and its characteristics are sometimes used to differentiate between similar species.

The female equivalent is known as the baubellum or os clitoris, a bone in the clitoris.

 

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