Echidnas Have 4-Tipped Penises, And Scientists Wish to Perceive Why

As if Australia’s great menagerie of unusual beasties wasn’t already distinctive sufficient – with biofluorescing mammals that lay eggs and sweat milk – the pleasant weirdness extends even to their nether areas. Take an echidna’s junk, as an illustration.


I imply, simply have a look at that magnificent four-tipped monstrosity!

“They need to be fairly nicely endowed to get across the spines,” Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary supervisor Sarah Eccleston advised the ABC again in 2016.

“Every of the rosettes (heads) don’t all produce sperm without delay; they use two of the heads at a time to ejaculate sperm.”

An echidna’s penis. (Jane Fenelon)

Previous analysis steered echidnas alternate which of the quartet of penis ends they use every time – odd conduct for a mammal.

“We discovered internally they act like they’ve two penises merged collectively and may use them independently,” College of Melbourne developmental biologist Jane Fenelon advised ScienceAlert.

Finding out injured short-beaked echidnas (Tachyglossus aculeatus) that sadly did not make it on the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary hospital, in addition to some tame sanctuary residents, Fenelon and colleagues discovered that blood circulate could be directed in the direction of one facet of their penis or the opposite. This might be how they management which half turns into erect. 

Why the animals solely use two ends of their penis at a time continues to be unclear, however the researchers suspect it took place by male competitors for females.


“By alternating using all sides our tame echidna can ejaculate 10 occasions with out important pause, probably permitting him to out-mate much less environment friendly males,” they wrote in a press release.

As if the animal was attempting to be as stubbornly distinctive as doable, as soon as ejaculated, bundles of as much as 100 echidna sperms work collectively to attempt to attain an egg and become an lovely little puggle.

“In most different species, sperm swim individually and it is each sperm for themselves,” the staff stated.

Marsupials like koalas even have multi-pronged penises – however theirs are solely forked in two. That is thought to turn out to be useful when attempting to get their sperm into the feminine’s twin uteruses. 

However such a function would not appear to clarify the echidna’s weird penis. Relating to accessing the feminine’s uterus, echidnas are extra much like birds and reptiles than different mammals.


“All echidnas have a cloaca which is the one gap by which urine, poo and egg-laying happens. They’ve separate tubes for all of those however they merge near the exit,” defined Fenelon.

“We expect the echidna penis is lengthy sufficient to succeed in the place the uterus branches off although.”

The researchers have really discovered one precedent for the echidna’s strange-shaped penis elsewhere within the animal kingdom.

“The one different animals I may discover that is much like this are some species of turtles,” stated Fenelon.

“There’s some proof that the penis in all amniotes (birds, reptiles and mammals) has the identical evolutionary origin and the monotremes are a lacking a part of that puzzle.”

This is sensible on condition that echidnas and the one different monotremes that also survive as we speak (platypus) share an odd mixture of mammalian, hen, and reptilian genetics. Monotremes parted methods with the remainder of us mammals 187 million years in the past. 

“We do know that they solely use their penis for mating, not urine,” Fenelon advised Australian Geographic. “As a result of they do not want it for urine, they’d the liberty to make it far more elaborate and that is one thing you see in different species that solely use it for mating.”

Echidnas store their penises internally when not in use. (Jane Fenelon)Echidnas retailer their penises internally when not in use. (Jane Fenelon)

More often than not, male echidnas hold their flamboyant bulge tucked neatly away inside their our bodies. This enables their reproductive appendage to remain protected and clear whereas they’re busy shoveling huge quantities of dust with blade-clawed paws, foraging for ants and termites. 

Like too lots of Australia’s wildlife, these distinctive animals are below menace largely from habitat destruction, which is regarding given the large ecosystem service they supply with their soil mixing habits – bettering soil well being, selling plant development, and trapping carbon.

Fortunately, for now Australia’s echidnas are nonetheless widespread; however Papua New Guinea’s three long-beaked echidna species are endangered, so additional insights into their reproductive system may assist with their conservation.

This analysis was revealed in Sexual Growth.


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