On Pig Orgasms, Praying Mantis Porno, and Pedantry

I love the Internet. I love the Internet so much that I try not to remember the world before we had constant access to information at our literal fingertips, because as much as I love libraries, before the Internet it was quite difficult to find an answer to a question like “do pigs have half-hour orgasms?” in under thirty seconds, and I feel like we ought to be justifiably proud in our achievements in this area. The bizarre reproductive systems of animals should be information we can access in the blink of an eye, by god!

Unfortunately, this glorious system has its downsides, particularly if you’re on Facebook or if you have a gullible relative who sees fit to forward you any email which has clearly already been forwarded at least twenty times. Because our ability to share information at lightning speeds means we also have the ability to disseminate completely false information with equal rapidity. Sometimes even with greater rapidity, because what’s easier than hitting the “share” button and watching all those “likes” roll in? (It’s sort of like playing with Monopoly money, except you can’t even buy imaginary assets with it.) Why would anyone complicate this process by Googling to find out whether what you’re sharing is accurate?

This is on my mind in particular this morning because of a chain message that’s been making the rounds on Facebook which has been making my inner fact-checker twitch, and since my Googling didn’t turn up any handy collection of clarifications on these points, I thought instead of a featured creature this week, I’d run down this list for my own satisfaction. Because I kind of can’t help myself. So, here’s the entire text that’s going around Facebook, and then we’ll address each point one at a time. Doesn’t that sound like a fun learning experience? I thought so too.

A pig’s orgasm lasts 30 minutes. (O.M.G.!!!) A cockroach will live nine days without its head before it starves to death. (Creepy. I’m still not over the pig.) The male praying mantis cannot copulate while its head is attached to its body. The female initiates sex by ripping the male’s head off. (Honey, I’m home . What the…?) The flea can jump 350 times its body length. It’s like a human jumping the length of a football field. (30 minutes. Lucky pig! Can you imagine?) The catfish has over 27,000 taste buds. (What could be so tasty on the bottom of a pond?) Some lions mate over 50 times a day. (I still can’t believe that pig …quality over quantity.) Butterflies taste with their feet. (Something I always wanted to know.) Elephants are the only animals that cannot jump. (Okay, so that would be a good thing.) A cat’s urine glows under a black light. (I wonder how much the government paid to figure that out.) An ostrich’s eye is bigger than its brain. (I know some people like that.) Starfish have no brains. (I know some people like that, too.) Polar bears are left-handed. (Talk about a southpaw.) Humans and dolphins are the only species that have sex for pleasure. (What about that pig? Do the dolphins know about the pig?)” – Unknown

So, there it is. I expect that many of these will turn out to be partially true, and I know some are not really correct at all, but we’ll see what we can find, and we’ll certainly all be better informed at the end of the process.

Awwwww yes, this is how we do it in Denmark. Girl, I’mma inseminate you so good.

A pig’s orgasm lasts 30 minutes.
As far as I can discern, this item is possibly true but somewhat disingenuous. I can’t really find any research that indicates 30 minutes as average rather than the absolute upper range of time for pig sex, but also because it implies that both parties are having a similarly good time, like pigs are having amazing tantric sex or something. We can assume that this 30-minutes idea is based on a boar’s ejaculation, which really can go on at great length (5-10 minutes seems to be an average, though 30 minutes would certainly seem possible with multiple ejaculations) and can produce a staggering half-litre of fluid. Good lord, pigs. In her TED Talk “10 Things You Didn’t Know About Orgasm,” Mary Roach discusses an interesting fact on why we ought to also be concerned with more than just the boar’s pleasure: pig farms in Denmark have found that when artificially inseminating sows, they can prompt the sows to produce more offspring by sexually stimulating the sows while they’re being inseminated. (The five-point stimulation plan for sows is seriously hilarious. Just watch the TED Talk, it is so worth it, I am not even kidding.) It’s not all bad for the sow, at least; while it’s fair to assume that she probably doesn’t enjoy the sex act with quite the vigor that the boar does, she at least gets something out of the deal, since her clitoris is in fact located inside her vagina, and thus she does get to experience an orgasm herself, which is more than many poor women of our own species can say. So I’m going to call this item partially true, but exaggerated; the sex lives of pigs are undoubtedly fascinating, but a half-hour orgasm seems to be more of a remarkable feat than a regular event.

A cockroach will live nine days without its head before it starves to death.
True, but this factoid underestimates the ability of cockroaches to keep creeping us out even after being decapitated, because nine days is nothing. They can, in fact, continue to live for weeks after losing their heads. They don’t breathe through their heads, nor do they bleed out the way mammals do, nor do they need to have a brain for the body to continue functioning. Starvation would eventually spell the end for a headless cockroach, but if they’ve had a good meal recently, pre-decapitation, the body can keep on for quite some time, moving around and reacting to touch. And if that wasn’t creepy enough, the decapitated head can go on about its business for some hours, too.

Here we have a male praying mantis, enjoying himself some copulation, with his head still attached. Whether he managed the dismount without being eaten is not noted. (Photo by Zwentibold, used under Creative Commons license from WikiCommons.)

The male praying mantis cannot copulate while its head is attached to its body. The female initiates sex by ripping the male’s head off.
Totally not true. While female praying mantises do  sometimes cannibalize their mates, it certainly isn’t the case that mating isn’t possible without decapitation. The origins of this misconception are most likely a series of old studies in which scientists observed female mantises devouring their mating partners, but later studies didn’t offer up the same results; in fact, it’s likely that the females in the original study were stressed by laboratory conditions or were not fed enough. How frequently the males perish when mating naturally in the wild is difficult to say, because the disturbance of being observed seems to have a serious impact on the behavior of the mantises in question. The incidence of sexual cannibalism in mantises seems to still be a subject of some debate among entomologists, but apparently males are able to recognize when they stand a risk of being eaten and are suitably cautious, while a female who is well-fed before mating will usually show no interest at all in biting anybody’s head off. It is true, however, that even once a female has bitten his head off, the male’s body will continue to mate with her — more vigorously, even — despite his state of headlessness. He probably learned that trick from the cockroaches.

The flea can jump 350 times its body length. It’s like a human jumping the length of a football field.
False, I think? Most of the sources I’ve found say they can jump about 200 times their body length, which isn’t as impressive, and isn’t a terribly accurate measurement either. On average they can manage about 13 inches with a single leap which is still pretty awesome, if only they weren’t such horrible, horrible little creatures. Biomechanically speaking they’re pretty mind-blowing though, as this article on BBC Earth News explains:

It was known that the energy to catapult a flea over a distance up to 200 times its body length lay in a spring-like structure in its body.

But scientists did not understand how they transferred this energy to the ground in order to jump.

High-speed footage now reveals that the secret lies in the way fleas use their hind legs as multi-jointed levers.

This “lever-effect” allows fleas to drive their feet onto the ground, and the sudden release of the “coiled spring” hurls the insect forwards and upwards, scientists report in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

The catfish has over 27,000 taste buds.
True. This inadequately explains how rad that is, because their tastebuds are distributed all over their bodies, so they’re sort of like a giant, swimming tongue. Which really is a great argument for why we probably shouldn’t dump so much crap in our rivers, it probably tastes awful. Save the waterways, people. For the sake of the catfish.

Some lions mate over 50 times a day.
Okay, before we even get to the frequency of mating I want to point out something about lion mating, which is that the male lion’s penis is fucking barbed. Barbed. I mean Jesus, what is this shit. Animal kingdom, why don’t you do something for the ladies for once? Why is nature all about screwing the women over? As far as the fifty times a day claim, they saved themselves on that one with “some lions.” Average is apparently 20-40 times a day so I’d imagine some overachievers manage fifty times a day. They must be exhausted when they’re through, and the lionesses ought to be rewarded with like a spa day at the end of it all.

The female lion does not appear to be amused by this shit.
(Photo by Bob Fabry, used under Creative Commons license, from WikiCommons.)

Butterflies taste with their feet.
True fact, in fact. When butterflies are trying to figure out where to lay their eggs, they can tell just by landing on a leaf whether their eventual caterpillar offspring would find it delicious. It’s probably a time-saver, since they don’t have to sit around chewing bits off of leaves like they’re sampling wedding cakes. It’s probably kind of a rad superpower to have, until you landed on like a manure pile or something. But it’s not quite as impressive when you consider that during chrysalis they turn themselves into a cell soup and then make themselves into an entirely new organism. What is this witchcraft?!

Elephants are the only animals that cannot jump.
Apparently it’s true that elephants can’t jump; they just aren’t built for it, and it wouldn’t help them escape predators when instead of jumping they can just trample you to death. But any statement that claims “X is the ONLY animal that…” automatically makes me suspicious, and saying that elephants are the only creatures in all the animal kingdom that can’t jump is simply too broad a claim for me. How about snails? Clams? Sloths? Starfish? Jellyfish? Blobfish? It’s difficult to find any definitive statements on which animals may be physically incapable of jumping since so many of them simply don’t jump, ever, because it would be pointless and also silly, but I do think assigning the sole honor of a non-acrobatic life to elephants is going to too far. Speaking of silly, if you’d like to see what it might look like if elephants did jump, you can watch this lovely animated short of an elephant on a trampoline. Just tell everyone that it’s for science.

A cat’s urine glows under a black light.
This is true, and actually kind of handy if you’re trying to rid a house of the horrific odor of cat urine. However, it’s not that terribly interesting a fact because it’s also true of many other fluids, both animal and non-animal in origin. Human urine will also glow in damning brightness under blacklight — as Chef Ramsay often likes to demonstrate — so I don’t know what makes cats think they’re so special. A UV light may also reveal traces of semen, blood, saliva, or sweat, and many objects and substances will fluoresce under UV light for any number of reasons, but these include petroleum jelly, laundry detergent, tonic water, and all sorts of other boring things. It does look good on crime shows, though.

Baby, you got such big beautiful eyes that allow you to see predators from a great distance thus ensuring your longevity and the continuation of your damn fine genes.
(Photo by A. Kniesel, under Creative Commons license.)

An ostrich’s eye is bigger than its brain.
True! This is not so much a statement on the ostrich’s intelligence — though they aren’t renowned for their remarkable brain power — but rather on the environment in which it is most suited to survive. While its eye-to-brain ration isn’t that bad in comparison to other birds, try not to think of it as incredibly small-brained so much as incredibly large-eyed (the largest eye on any land vertebrate, apparently); the size of its eyes (each is about two inches in diameter) gives it great long-range vision, combined with the heightened vantage point of its long neck, helps it immensely in its quest to not be eaten and die a horrible, horrible death. Which frankly seems like an admirable pursuit to me. (And while we’re on the subject of ostriches, I hope everybody realizes by now that they don’t actually hide their heads and think you can’t see them. That myth was probably started by Roman “historian” Pliny the Elder, who as far as I can tell spent most of his writing time drunk off his ass because nothing that jerk says is ever true.) Ostriches get kind of a bad rap, let’s be honest. Everybody thinks they’re stupid and we find it hilarious to watch people ride them, but just for perspective’s sake, you should know that they can run faster than you, the male ostrich has a scientifically important 8-inch phallus, and they are pretty much epic kickboxers. So I’m just saying, laugh all you like, but I wouldn’t fuck with an ostrich because they will mess your shit up.

Starfish have no brains.
Not entirely true, and not very fair to the starfish. True, if you were facing an army of zombie starfish and you were trying to destroy their brains so they couldn’t feast on you, you might have a hard time knowing where to aim, but really I don’t think zombie starfish should be very high on your list of things to worry about. In essence, a starfish’s entire nervous system acts as its brain, which if you think about it is kind of awesome. Let us take a moment to just appreciate the humble starfish, okay? Because starfish do not need to take this bullshit. If you cut off a starfish’s arm, it can grow a new one.  They can grip onto things using their very own adhesive chemicals, so basically they make their own glue. They don’t need to have sex to make babies because sex is so totally passé. They have their own internal hydraulics to move around with. When a starfish is hungry it doesn’t have to eat things smaller than its mouth — instead it can devour shit like clams and fish — because it can eject one of its stomachs and turn its prey into delicious prey-soup. That’s how badass they are. So let’s give a little respect to the starfish before they decide to join the jellyfish army and put an end to us all, okay?

Polar bears are left-handed.
That is just fucking ridiculous. What do we think polar bears do with their time, anyway? It’s not like they can hold a fountain pen. They’re not out there on the polar ice practicing their fastball. They don’t even have hands. God, why are we even having this conversation? Okay, here are actual facts: there is no science to support this idea, nor has anyone managed to hunt down whoever started that stupid rumor and kill them with a trained polar bear, more’s the pity. (It was probably the asshole Pliny the Elder. That guy’s definition of “facts” was “shit I made up because I was too busy doing other stuff to actually learn anything.”) In fact, the only research I could find on the subject indicates that injuries seem to be more common to the right forelimb, which might indicate more of a tendency toward right-pawedness, or might indicate nothing at all because that study is actually about vitamin deficiencies in captive bears so who the fuck knows. In case you’re secretly harboring any other ridiculous ideas about polar bears, Polar Bears International actually has an entire page just about myths and misconceptions regarding polar bears, so please read it. You will find it enlightening and fascinating, and if you don’t, you can instead go watch this video of a baby polar bear riding around on its mom’s back and experience a drastic reduction in your stress levels. Because I’m sure that you, too, feel frustrated and annoyed by the persistence of stupid made-up “facts” about polar bears.

Humans and dolphins are the only species that have sex for pleasure.
So. Patently. Untrue. This is so untrue it makes me sad. Like, if the first item on this list were completely true and pigs actually had glorious 30-minute orgasms you’d think they’d be having sex for pleasure too. In fact, all sorts of animals have been demonstrated to have sex for what we would call pleasure, which for simplicity’s sake I will call non-reproductive. Just about every permutation of sexuality and sexual behavior that has been seen in humans has also been documented somewhere, somehow, in animals. Bisexuality, orgies, self-stimulation, homosexuality, heterosexuality, autoeroticism, stimulation with objects, rape, sex with dead animals, prostitution, fetishism, the list goes on on and on and on. Literally. This Wikipedia entry on animal sexual behavior is a pretty good place to start if you’d like to have your mind blown. Since dolphins are particularly mentioned here, I feel like it’s also my duty to point out that a dolphin’s idea of pleasure usually involves gang rape and sexual slavery. They also enjoy long swims near the beach and some nice infanticide.

But since we’re talking about sex for pleasure, let’s talk specifically about bonobos. Because how in the name of all that is holy can you talk about sex for pleasure without talking about bonobos? Bonobo chimps have sexual practices for every occasion. There’s sex to say hello or to resolve conflicts or to say I’m sorry. If they find an awesome new food source they’ll have a celebratory orgy. Bonobos are not at all monogamous and don’t particularly care what age or gender their sexual partners are, either. Aside from all the homosexual contact, which clearly is not for purposes of reproduction, they also enjoy all sorts of sexual positions that don’t result in offspring, either. They enjoy kissing with tongue and oral sex and occasionally the males like to do something called “penis fencing.” Yeah, it’s really called that. I won’t link you to any of the youtube videos with bonobos having enthusiastic and undoubtedly pleasurable sex, but I’m sure you can find them on your own, if you’re so inclined.

And it’s not just sex, either. We like to think of animals as slightly mindless and driven by their various urges for survival and perpetuation of the species, but I hope we’ve all realized by now — particularly since science is providing us with solid proof — that all sorts of animals engage in all sorts of behaviors just for the fun of it. They have rich, complex lives of their own, and it’s not like they stop existing when we aren’t watching, so let’s all just take a moment to get over ourselves.

And sure, maybe my idea of fun is exhaustive Internet fact-checking, which is decidedly less exciting than a bonobo’s idea of a good time, but I hope that you’ve found this excursion into pedantry entertaining, and I do hope you’ll think about doing a little research of your own the next time you feel inclined to hit the share button this kind of bullshit. I mean Jesus, how could they forget about the bonobo orgies? Fucking amateurs.

3 thoughts on “On Pig Orgasms, Praying Mantis Porno, and Pedantry

  1. Brilliant and entertaining as ever Mac! People will always write stupid shit on FB, it’s the nature of the beast x

  2. Fantastic! Isn’t nature amazing? Thanks for writing such a fun, fact-filled post!

  3. Pingback: Bright Strange Things | All of Life’s Pressing Questions, Direct From the Internet

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