Magazine article Science News

Stab in the Head Marks Sea Slug Sex: Hermaphrodite Uses Thin Organ for Injections near the Eyes

Magazine article Science News

Stab in the Head Marks Sea Slug Sex: Hermaphrodite Uses Thin Organ for Injections near the Eyes

Article excerpt

A newly discovered sea slug adds a special something to mating: simultaneous forehead piercing.

Found on Australia's Great Barrier Reef, the new species of hermaphroditic sea slug has the double set of penile organs typical of Siphopteron slugs. Yet the new slugs deploy them in a novel way, says marine behavioral ecologist Rolanda Lange of Monash University in Clayton, Australia.

When the as-yet-unnamed slugs mate, one organ delivers the sperm to the female opening on another slug's body. Seconds after partners position their structures for simultaneous sperm transfer, the slugs each insert a second organ, a needlelike stylet. Each slug plunges it like a syringe into the area around the other's eyes, Lange and her colleagues report November 13 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

The stylet organs, throbbing in slow pulses, stay inserted for most of the 40 minutes or so of sperm transfer.

In the matings that Lange observed, all slugs stabbed their partners in the head, rather than a different body zone or a mix of targets as related slugs do. This head strike drives the stylet into the region of the slug's central nervous system, and the slow pulses pump compounds from one slug into the other.

Just what the slug (for now called Siphopteron species 1) gains by such injections isn't clear yet. There are many other species of animal that slip their mating partner manipulative compounds. These biochemicals make the partner invest extravagantly in egg production, for example, make the partner slow to accept the next mate or simply reduce the chances that sperm will get digested for nutrition instead of used for babies. …

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