Pharyngula

Machines of aggressively loving grace

i-e88a953e59c2ce6c5e2ac4568c7f0c36-rb.png

Squid don’t just make sperm: they package it up into fairly elaborate little torpedoes called spermatophores, which are either handed to the female with a specially modified arm called the hectocotyl arm, or squirted onto her with a penis. Once on the female (or a male, it really doesn’t matter), the spermatophore everts, forming a structure called the spermatangia, in which all the packed sperm uncoil, ready to do their job, and the whole mass is anchored to the target with a cement body. These structures do show species-specific differences, but here is one example from Heteroteuthis dispar.

i-9eb9d1092b5f3f2323186ff767ec2dd5-spermatophore.jpeg
Heteroteuthis dispar. Spermatophore (a) and spermatangium (b)

Now the curious observation: squid are often captured festooned with spermatophores and spermatangia, and in many cases, the spermatangia may be imbedded deeply into the musculature of the animal — so it’s not simply as if the spermatophores are lovingly placed in an appropriate orifice, they are piercing the female (or the male, again, they don’t care that much), tearing deep into the interior. The question is, how do they get in there?

A few simple observations have revealed the answer. Spermatophores can be triggered by a gentle squeeze, at which time all of their fertilization machinery will fire. Here are some photos of some spermatophores going to work on a squid carcass.

i-cfa7b64f89849ec640df781a4b43dd43-implant.jpeg(A) Placement of spermatophores on a dead male specimen of Moroteuthis ingens (mantle length ~300
mm) and initiation of the spermatophoric reaction by pressing on the ejaculatory apparatus with a forceps. (B)
Same specimen, but submerged in seawater, showing the ejaculating spermatophores. (C) Exterior view of
implanted spermatangia in tissue of a female, showing the site of penetration and part of the amber ejaculatory
apparatus. (D) Interior view of same spermatangia, showing the sperm mass and the amber ejaculatory apparatus.

(Read the caption carefully. That’s a human triggering sperm to ejaculate into a dead male squid. It’s gay necrophiliac bestiality! You don’t see that in the papers every day.)

The answer is that spermatophores also release digestive enzymes and actively burrow into the target tissue. Squid sperm show an aggressive persistence and vigorously active assault on the female body that our own pathetic human emissions lack…I feel a little inadequate, but I’m sure women are a bit relieved.

Another interesting observation is the function of the squid penis. It seems to be less an intromittent organ than a kind of hose to direct the ejaculations onto the female. In natural situations, unlike the photographs above, it is responsible for initiating the spermatophore reaction. Each spermatophore has a threadlike extension of a surrounding membrane, and tugging on that triggers the reaction. It’s like a squad of paratroopers leaping out of a phallic airplane, each attached by a static line that yanks the rip cord as they emerge.


Hoving HJT, Laptikhovsky V (2007) Getting under the skin: autonomous implantation of squid spermatophores. Biological Bulletin 212: 177-179.

Comments

  1. #1 Dan Howitt
    December 23, 2008

    Real interesting, thks for the article.
    Dan Howitt nyc

  2. #2 Devon
    December 23, 2008

    Eeeeeeew. That was mildly revolting.

  3. #3 The Science Pundit
    December 23, 2008

    The day wouldn’t be complete without a little gay necrophiliac bestiality.

  4. #4 Glen Davidson
    December 23, 2008

    The loving design of the Creator shows up once more.

    Seriously, why aren’t more Xians happy to relieve their “God” of such aggressive and damaging practices? Granted, Ken Miller still needs to tell us why the world is left to evolve such barbarities, but at least he isn’t telling us how God carefully designed malaria so that it will kill small children.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  5. #5 Gordon S
    December 23, 2008

    (Read the caption carefully. That’s a human triggering sperm to ejaculate into a dead male squid. It’s gay necrophiliac bestiality! You don’t see that in the papers every day.)

    You should read Worldnetdaily more often.

  6. #6 Epikt
    December 23, 2008

    The Science Pundit:

    The day wouldn’t be complete without a little gay necrophiliac bestiality.

    …and a Woody Allen reference.

  7. #7 mindy
    December 23, 2008

    looks very complex to me.. very very complex… any thoughts? or did this happen just out of hance?

  8. #8 Frasque
    December 23, 2008

    Gay necrophiliac bestiality, eh? *sings* “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas . . . “

  9. #9 MrStray
    December 23, 2008

    Oh professor, I love it when you talk dirty.

  10. #10 the pro from dover
    December 23, 2008

    I remeber a story in the newspaper about a giant squid (male) that had washed up dead on a beach with another giant squid’s spermatophore inserted under his skin. Why this squid hated America and the baby Jesus so much I do not know. Perhaps Rev. Warren will address this burning question at the convocation.

  11. #11 the pro from dover
    December 23, 2008

    I forgot to mention that genetic testing clearly proved it was Archipoofus Dux.

  12. #12 Glen Davidson
    December 23, 2008

    Why this squid hated America and the baby Jesus so much I do not know.

    Because, that squid was a Darwinist.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  13. #13 Nick Gotts
    December 23, 2008

    or did this happen just out of hance? – mindy

    From the free online dictionary:

    hance
    v. t. 1. To raise; to elevate.
    n. 1. (Arch.) See Hanse.
    2. (Naut.) A sudden fall or break, as the fall of the fife rail down to the gangway.

    hanse (hns)
    n.
    A medieval merchant guild or trade association.

    Nope. Don’t think hance had anything to do with the evolution of cephalopod reproductive arrangements.

  14. #14 Archaneus
    December 23, 2008

    That last description you wrote has implanted in my mind an image of a military training camp inside of the squid for all the little paratroopers. There should be a cartoon.

  15. #15 Glen Davidson
    December 23, 2008

    With correct html commands:

    Why this squid hated America and the baby Jesus so much I do not know.

    Because, that squid was a Darwinist.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  16. #16 whitedevil
    December 23, 2008

    This is one of the greatest things I’ve read all week.

  17. #17 Brownian, OM
    December 23, 2008

    oh, NOW YOUR SUPRISED??!

    THIS is the result of teching the perverted bedbug LIFESTYLE-no its nNot a choice!!!–in schools because thtats the only way gay nevrophilca lifestyles reproduce–doesn’t your SCIENCE (which you replaced CThulu) and LOGIC tell you they can’t have babies like this?

    You REAP what you SEW Professor and his ‘choir’ (and don’t say Im closed-minded I am a vbery open MIND) and what you do is between you and the old ones (which I will laugh when you meet hahahaha!) but how you can pervert innocent squed to not be eatin first is bey9ond me.

    Happy Monkey! in CHTULUS name (you dont believe btu you WILL!!!hahahahahahahahahah!0

    Bronwian, OD

  18. #18 Pope Tilton DCLXVI
    December 23, 2008

    It’s gay necrophiliac bestiality!

    And, as such, far more dangerous to the world than global warming.

  19. #19 George
    December 23, 2008

    Just goes to show, homosexual and heterosexual and asexual behavior are common – they are natural. Completely contradicts the pope’s whole argument in the previous post.

    Religion is a human creation for the sole purpose of imposing rules on others. Interestingly, the rules so imposed are not always followed even by the religious leaders them,selves.

  20. #20 the Petey
    December 23, 2008

    It’s like a squad of paratroopers leaping out of a phallic airplane, each attached by a static line that yanks the rip cord as they emerge.

    I think i need a towel

  21. #21 H.H.
    December 23, 2008

    looks very complex to me.. very very complex… any thoughts? or did this happen just out of [c]hance?

    Well, right now, the prevailing theory is that a coven of evil djinns designed the sperm delivery system, but that in all likelihood a trickster spirit of some sort, either a sprite or satyr, tampered with the firing mechanism of the spermatophores. Scientists are still hashing out the details.

  22. #22 Hank Fox
    December 23, 2008

    Whew! Sex as predation.

    Reading this description, I imagine scenes with BeeGees music, disco balls and hard-drinking men on the dance floor, internally primed and just waiting for a female to come within striking range.

    I’m pretty sure that’s how some of us saw ourselves, anyway.

  23. #23 Keenacat
    December 23, 2008

    Eeeeew…. *shudder*
    Parasitic sperm will haunt my nightmares for quite some time now.

  24. #24 Rick Chappell
    December 23, 2008

    > It’s gay necrophiliac bestiality! You don’t > see that in the papers every day.

    Sure we do. You’re just beating a dead horse.

  25. #25 Brownian, OM
    December 23, 2008

    Sure we do. You’re just beating a dead horse.

    Heh, I see what you did there, Rick.

  26. #26 rob
    December 23, 2008

    i call dibs on gaynecrophiliacbestiality.com

  27. #27 Tim
    December 23, 2008

    You only hurt the one you love.. (Spike Jones version)

  28. #28 Flamethorn
    December 23, 2008

    Can we refrain from invoking Rule 34 please?

    Or is it too late?

  29. #29 Angel Kaida
    December 23, 2008

    …I was finally starting to not be afraid of squid. I even decided that some of them were pretty and wrote a bio paper on them.
    Thanks for reinvigorating my nightmares.

  30. #30 ben
    December 23, 2008

    Off-topic but cephalopodulent … do any squidfolk have an opinion on the lumper/splitter debate vis-a-vis the genus Architeuthis? It seems that every specimen ever found has been given a species of its very own: sanctipauli, japonica, etc., on the basis of very little evidence.

  31. #31 Ward S. Denker
    December 23, 2008

    mindy (#7), are you fishing around to see if you can get us to bite on some creationist drivel, or are you asking a legitimate question? It sounds suspiciously like typical creationist “how could this have all happened by chance” rhetoric.

    Random mutation is one way for evolution to occur. There are a lot of mechanisms (punctuated equilibrium, genetic drift, etc.). Some will claim that mutation only destroys and that no new “information” (by which they’re inferring that genetic code is intelligently designed) can accumulate in this way. This comes from a misunderstanding of natural selection.

    Random mutation could be likened to static on a television screen (to use the analogy from a creationist web site I recently debunked on my blog). Natural selection would be the process of selecting a few pixels from each new batch of random pixels (genes) that most resemble something (say, a photograph), leaving the pixels already selected (mostly) alone, and discarding all the rest (they are lost because they don’t lead to viable offspring). With natural selection as a “filter” on this randomness, eventually a clear picture resembling something recognizable appears.

    Contrary to popular belief, natural selection is not “survival of the fittest.” Fitness is a specific distinction that indicates knowledge of the condition something is supposed to be fit for. In a lot of cases, random mutations can be completely benign (eye color, for example). As long as mutations aren’t lethal or prevent offspring and no selection pressures are applied, variety within a species will abound. This is useful to any species because when a selection pressure is applied, all of that genetic variety increases the chances of survival by specific lines.

    It should not come as a surprise that the most alien of conditions (the bottom of the ocean) will inevitably lead to alien genetics (from the perspective of us land dwellers). Where lack of light, intense pressures, frigid cold, and contact with already-weird denizens of the deep come into play, it could be easily described as an “arms race of strange.”

  32. #32 Azdak
    December 23, 2008

    Did this remind anyone else of Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex?

  33. #33 Coragyps
    December 23, 2008

    It seems to be less an intromittent organ than a kind of hose to direct the ejaculations onto the female.

    I think I’ve seen people movies like that……

  34. #34 sara
    December 23, 2008

    Is spermatangium keratinised or mineralised? How is it so hard?

  35. #35 papa zita
    December 23, 2008

    It’s like a squad of paratroopers leaping out of a phallic airplane, each attached by a static line that yanks the rip cord as they emerge.

    Gee, that seems just like the last vignette of Woody Allen’s Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask.

  36. #36 Fellow Traveller
    December 23, 2008

    Great. In my country, the United Kingdom, the government recently outlawed images of necrophilia, bestiality and extremely violent sex. So, by reading your post, I’ve just set myself up for a stretch in prison.

  37. #37 cousinavi
    December 23, 2008

    This obvious obsession with squid sex…
    bit of a giveaway, n’est pas?
    “PZ Myers Arrested for Tentacle Porn”

    Phallic airplane?
    You dirty little beast.

  38. #38 Brad D
    December 23, 2008

    As much as I like watching movies like Alien, and other movies with exotic fantasy creatures, I have to say those movies have nothing on nature for the weirdness and occasional horror factor.

  39. #39 Quiet_Desperation
    December 23, 2008

    Bleah. I’m alerting Rick Warren about this post. We can’t be having this sort of smut polluting the interwebs and destroying the minds of America’s impressionable youths. Why do you hate America, PZ? Hater.

  40. #40 Jeremy
    December 23, 2008

    Reminds me of traumatic insemination in some insects, mites, and onychophorans. I’m not sure which is more fascinating.

  41. #41 eric
    December 23, 2008

    Adzak (#32) – no, strangely it reminded me of Wrath of Kahn…the part where they stick a “juvenile Ceti eel” in Chekov’s ear. Do the squid’s digestive enzymes work on humans? Yikes!!!

  42. #42 Blake Stacey
    December 23, 2008

    Do the squid’s digestive enzymes work on humans?

    Only in Japan.

    (Come on, you were all thinking it!)

  43. #43 Rebecca C.
    December 23, 2008

    God, isn’t getting it in our hair enough? Remind me never to date a squid.

  44. #44 Sven DiMilo
    December 23, 2008

    Another interesting observation is the function of the squid penis.

    Quoted purely for quotability.

  45. #45 Robert Estrada
    December 23, 2008

    I am really! REALLY!!grateful that you chose science as a career. My imagination staggers at what might have happened if you had become a priest or cinematographer
    Merry squidmas and a happy monkey!.
    (does that have anything to do with spanking the monkey?)
    Robert

  46. #46 Cannabinaceae
    December 23, 2008

    Azdak,

    Darn it, you thought along similar lines as did I. Now I’m going to have to think of some other cultural reference. Hmm…

    Cephalopods are growing like yellow sea-anemones on the current
    And we ejaculate aggressively in the medieval gardens of their burrowing spermatophores
    Oh I want to inseminate
    Oh I am inseminating
    Oh I have inseminated
    Thank you

    To the obvious question at this point: no, the last time I indulged in LSD was when comet Hyakutake was nearby.

  47. #47 JM Inc.
    December 23, 2008

    Now I’m not a biologist (though I have studied a bit of biology so I probably should know this), but I thought penises evolved to prevent the drying out of sperm after ejaculation in land animals? Is this not so?

    Is it simply that this squid penis shares a different history than our own, or do they share the same history, and that history just happens to start earlier and for a different reason than I was given to think it had?

    ???
    PZ said: “Squid sperm show an aggressive persistence and vigorously active assault on the female body that our own pathetic human emissions lack…I feel a little inadequate“.

    And PZ, what a throwback you are! How typically masculine to always worry about the efficacy of your capacity for genetic proliferation. Besides, I’m sure plenty of people out there wish their male partners would squirt them with digestive enzymes, considering the human alternative when it comes to aggressive, involuntary sexual penetration. Digestive enzymes do wash off, you know; can you imagine if the primary form of birth control was to check yourself for spermatophores? Christ, I’d go for that!

  48. #48 g
    December 23, 2008

    Is the gender of the human important?

  49. #49 Epacris
    December 23, 2008

    Brad D @38, some movie horror monsters are based on ‘real’ creatures. Filmmakers will combine a few different physical &/or behavioural characteristics. Alien used the wasp implanting into paralysed live victims bit. I think the bursting out is like some worms (tho’ not usually lethal). I’m not sure if there were other bits based on actual examples.

  50. #50 Paper Hand
    December 23, 2008

    Does that cause injury to the female? It seems like it would from the description, but I suppose it couldn’t be too serious, or the squids would never successfully reproduce!

    Is this normal among all squids?

  51. #51 marella splendens
    December 23, 2008

    Did anyone else think of squid bukkake when reading this?

  52. #52 Tulse
    December 23, 2008

    So, PZ, is the post title a reference to the Richard Brautigan poem? If so, massive kudos!

  53. #53 Crudely Wrott
    December 23, 2008

    Squid sperm show an aggressive persistence and vigorously active assault on the female body that our own pathetic human emissions lack…I feel a little inadequate, but I’m sure women are a bit relieved.

    That happens to me a lot, too. Got the scars to prove it.

    EOPOA (Early Onset Primary Old Age) is so comforting, eh?

  54. #54 PZ Myers
    December 23, 2008

    Of course it’s a Brautigan reference! What else could it be?

  55. #55 Owlmirror
    December 23, 2008

    Did anyone else think of squid bukkake when reading this?

    As best I could understand it, squid reproduction is, in fact, bukkake.

  56. #56 donna
    December 23, 2008

    “Does that cause injury to the female? It seems like it would from the description, but I suppose it couldn’t be too serious, or the squids would never successfully reproduce!”

    Actually most squid tend to die after they reproduce. So yeah, it’s kind of fatal.

  57. #57 Tulse
    December 24, 2008

    Of course it’s a Brautigan reference! What else could it be?

    Well, there’s a band whose name refers to the same poem. But I figured you to be both cool enough and old enough to be name-checking the original. What else would a godless liberal do but sit around and read ’60s poets and novelists?

    I am now expecting an appropriate “Trout Fishing in America” reference in a future post!

  58. #58 dwhatley
    December 24, 2008

    Have you tried the spermatophores on other tissue to see if they would imbed?

  59. #59 mayhempix
    December 24, 2008

    Great idea for a science fiction plot. The alien cephs fire their sperm at humans where it inbeds in their flesh. They can only be removed by tearing them out but their are so many it is virtually impossible without dying. When the youing cephs mature they eat away at the host.

    All the Christians will believe they are being personally persecuted and blame it on gay marriage. The Muslims will blame it on western science and the infidel Christians. The new agers will blame it on bad Feng Shui. And the Libertarians will blame it on market regulation.

    The hero is an atheist biologist who loves calamari.

  60. #60 J. Grant
    December 24, 2008

    Just in time for Xmas!

  61. #61 AdamK
    December 24, 2008

    Okay, this post and the angler fish post below?

    Eeew!

    Biology is soooo gross.

  62. #62 Jadehawk
    December 24, 2008

    I can never unread this post… biology is traumatizing.

  63. #63 Skelli
    December 24, 2008

    Gay necrophiliac bestiality FOR SCIENCE!

  64. #64 Inquisitor Numad
    December 24, 2008

    And I, for one, no longer welcome our new cephalopod overlords.

  65. #65 Susannah
    December 25, 2008

    JM Inc, # 47:
    “Digestive enzymes do wash off, you know;… ”

    Dream on. The squid is underwater and they don’t wash off.

    Maybe they’re more like ticks; you need to hold a hot match to their rear ends.

    One more to add to the list of proofs of God’s great love!

  66. #66 hip hip array
    December 25, 2008

    Another interesting observation is the function of the squid penis. It seems to be less an intromittent organ than a kind of hose to direct the ejaculations onto the female.

    They all grew up in the San Fernando Valley.

  67. #67 JM Inc.
    December 26, 2008

    #65, Susannah: “Dream on. The squid is underwater and they don’t wash off.

    Hey, anybody who’s ever had five or six too many knows that soap washes out a lot of things.

  68. #68 Sondra
    December 27, 2008

    Wow. Will the baby squid get born from the dead body? That would be the ultimate alien invasion.

  69. #69 Sili
    December 31, 2008

    (Read the caption carefully. That’s a human triggering sperm to ejaculate into a dead male squid. It’s gay necrophiliac bestiality! You don’t see that in the papers every day.)

    So in fact it’s more specifically interspecies felching?

  70. #70 hery
    January 25, 2010

    Parasitic sperm will haunt my nightmares for quite some time now.

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.