Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Porcupines have spines in the strangest places

How do porcupines have sex? Even more carefully than you would have thought.

Porcupines have spines in the strangest places

In my first installment of Planet of the Apes, I interviewed a biologist who found that humans carry a mutation, a missing piece of DNA, that freed our species of penis spines. He described these spines as little whiskery projections that may increase sensitivity in the male. Apparently they adorn the male genitalia of chimps and many other mammals.

Penn State's Philip Reno, the biologist in question, said the penis spines on chimps are pretty benign, being only about a millimeter long. The scariest ones belong to, who else, the porcupine. 

Porcupine penises are covered with spines the size of fingernails - as if the poor creatures didn't have enough issues already. Not surprisingly, porcupines are known as slow breeders. They're relatively rare animals, which is why some conservationists object to PA's decision to allow people to shoot a limited number of porcupines.

About this blog
Faye Flam - writer
In pursuit of her stories, writer Faye Flam has weathered storms in Greenland, gotten frost nip at the South Pole, and floated weightless aboard NASA’s zero-g plane. She has a degree in geophysics from the California Institute of Technology and started her writing career with the Economist. She later took on the particle physics and cosmology beat at Science Magazine before coming to the Inquirer in 1995. Her previous science column, “Carnal Knowledge,” ran from 2005 to 2008. Her new column and blog, Planet of the Apes, explores the topic of evolution and runs here and in the Inquirer’s health section each Monday. Email Faye at fflam@phillynews.com. Reach Planet of the at fflam@phillynews.com.

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