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Scientists found the snake clitoris

Across the animal kingdom, female genitalia are often overlooked by scientists in comparison to their male counterparts. In the case of snakes, researchers have assumed for a long time that the clitoris (hemiclitores) is either absent or a non-functional anatomical part. However, a team of researchers led by the University of Adelaide in Australia has recently provided the first anatomical description of the female snake clitoris, thus changing our understanding of these animals’ physiology and behavioral traits.

The experts examined female genitalia in adult snake specimens across nine species, and compared them to adult and juvenile male snake genitalia. “We found the heart-shaped snake hemiclitores is composed of nerves and red blood cells consistent with erectile tissue – which suggests it may swell and become stimulated during mating. This is important because snake mating is often thought to involve coercion of the female – not seduction,” reported study co-author Kate Sanders, an associated professor of Biological Sciences at Adelaide.

“Through our research we have developed proper anatomical descriptions and labels of the female snake genitalia. We can apply our findings to further understand systematics, reproductive evolution and ecology across snake-like reptiles, such as lizards.”

“We are proud to contribute this research, particularly as female genitalia across every species are unfortunately still taboo,” added study lead author Megan Folwell, a doctoral student in Biology at the same university.

According to the researchers, snake hemiclitores have functional significance in mating and clearly show that they are not just underdeveloped hemipenes or scent glands – as it was erroneously thought for a long time. Instead, they may have a crucial role in transducing sensation to the female snake during courtship and copulation, which might promote longer and more frequent mating leading to increased fertilization success.

“Further investigation into the sensory features of snake hemiclitores and hemipenes are needed to determine potential tactile sensitivity. Comparative morphological investigations of hemiclitores and hemipenes within and among taxa would also provide insight into the possible coevolution of male and female genitalia,” the authors concluded.

The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.


By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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