Sunday, June 06, 2010

Pull out the genitalia...

Torquemadaesque? Not in this instance (unless you are a beetle). Romantic? Not really, especially if we're talking about beetles. Scientific? Yes!

"Pull out the genitalia, and often everything becomes clear," says Maxi Polihronakis, a beetle taxonomist in an interview with Richard Conniff of Discover Magazine. He's talking about ways to identify new species.

Apparently, "genitalia evolve more quickly and in more bizarre ways than any other animal trait."

I knew that! I have an M.I.T. poster of a diagram showing strange looking animal penises, and I've almost certainly blogged about that before.  I've also mentioned the weed-whacker-like design of a hippopotamus penis that I was privileged to see thrashing the grass on hot day at the Detroit zoo a few years ago.

Weird-looking genitals are a bit of a problem for a credible science fiction romance author. Like rotting royal teeth (or anyone's really) in fairy tale castles such as Neuschwanstein or sewage in Regency Romance streets, or the probability of serious body odor inside knightly armor, our editors would rather we glossed over the less attractive findings from our research.

One can have too much of a good thing when it comes to realism in romance.

Nevertheless, we could give the peculiar goolies to the alien villain... as long as he is not a close relative of the hero. This could be quite useful. The heroine doesn't have to see them. The gentle reader only has to hear about them. Yet, the point is made that aliens have evolved differently.

Especially in the insect world, but also among fish, different species can look almost exactly alike (also useful for an alien romance plot), but they may or may not be able to interbreed. Sometimes the similar appearance is a coincidence (parallelism) and sometimes it is deliberate (convergence) to make the stealthy approach of a predator less alarming to the prey.

Here's news the science fiction romance writer probably cannot use. The male Anopheles mosquito can be identified by the pattern of bristles on his genitals.

This same Discover Magazine article is quite the world-building treasure trove. There is a species of fish that is all-female. There are no males. However, the females need to have sex "to trigger the parthenogenic development of unfertilized eggs" (although the alien males do not fertilize the eggs).

I have no doubt that this evolutionary trick has been adapted by some of our male-sex-slave colleagues for their sfr/erotica plots.

Personally, I am a bit skeptical about those fish. It seems more likely to me that the species has funny-looking males, and our scientists haven't recognized that the males of the species look different. But, that's just my take.... and it certainly spoils sport.


  1. Well, as for me, I think if one is writing about a naked frog species, one must surely mention their genitalia, or lack of it, so to speak.

    If for nothing else than at least to make clear that there wont' be any um...inter-species connections going on that are of that um...nature.


  2. Oh, my goodness, that gives a new dimension to The Frog Prince fairy tale!

    Thank you, Bratty.

    In the case of a frog, one would have to also mention their exceptionally long and well developed thumbs.