Scientists discovered a cave-dwelling insect whose females have a penis and males have a vagina—or so the headlines say. But the ‘female penis’ isn’t really that at all.
When is a penis not a penis? When it belongs to a female insect, say scientists investigating the animal kingdom’s first documented instance of an evolutionary genital swap. The Brazilian cave-dwelling male, Neotrogla, has been found to possess a vagina and vice versa, making this an historic case of sex organ switcheroo.
Where the discovery is truly unique is that the species’ females take on both the traditionally male role in copulation—using an “elaborate, penis-like structure… [to] anchor the female to the male”—as well as retaining their usual biological function of providing the egg. A woman’s work really is never done.
Interestingly, scientists don’t just class every animal with a penis as male: determining the sex as such comes down to how big a creature’s gametes are. The largest of these are usually provided by females (the egg), which, in Neotrogla’s case, holds. But the real game changer is that they also take the lead when it comes to mating—inserting their penis (or, more accurately, gynosome) into males for fertilization and nutrients. Given that their mating sessions can last up to 70 hours, their bedroom—well, cave—performances seem pretty darn impressive.