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Monday, December 29, 2008

Rough Sex at 40,000 Leagues Under the Sea

What do you do to pass on your genes to the next generation if you are really hard up, it’s too dark to see clearly and you are literally under enormous pressure. The short answer: play rough and weird.

Species of deep-sea squid that strut their stuff in the blackness that prevail thousands of feet beneath the ocean surface encounter few opportunities to mate and so every tryst must count.

So what's a guy (squid) to do? Males of the species Taningia danae use sharp beaks or hooks on tentacles to make cuts into their mates of more than two inches before depositing sperm packets called spermatophores, Australian biologists tell the German magazine Der Spiegel.

Males may get really agro because of an inferiority complex, the pub reports: They are generally smaller and, if they don’t play hard, fast, or clever they may get eaten by the Big Mamas. At these depths, size may matter a lot to make sure those little packets of love really stay put.

The researchers report they found spermatophores that had been “injected” into a female by a three-foot-long penis, that sometimes misses its mark. In one case of bad aim, a squid accidentally injected himself under the skin, providing perhaps the most literal example in the animal world of shooting oneself in the foot. (Another species of squid just injects the sperm into water near their female and a chemical in the sperm packet dissolves female tissue, allowing the sperm to enter.)

Some of these wimpy squid males apparently try brains instead of brawn. The men of Ancistrocheirus lesueurii are cross dressers, taking on the appearance of females, possibly as a ploy to get closer to the real thing before pouncing. Females who hail from the clan Heteroteuthis dispar are models of thrift. They store sperm in their body that accounts for up to 3 percent of their body weight.

For female squids, sex is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience—and an apparently horrible one at that. The female releases millions of tiny eggs into the water along with the sperm contributed by the one male who got his hooks into her, and usually never goes back for seconds, the researchers found. Afterward, they never let a male get close—a behavior that even has led to the technical term “traumatic fertilization.”

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