(ORDO NEWS) — Until now, scientists believed that female snakes, unlike many other animals, do not have a clitoris.
However, Australian researchers managed to find this organ, and the pair is the same as the penises of male snakes. The clitoris is found in the females of many vertebrates, from dolphins to crocodiles and lizards.
At the same time, it is believed that close relatives of lizards, snakes, have lost this genital organ in the process of evolution. However, scientists from the Australian University of Adelaide managed to detect it in snakes.
Hemipenis – the external genital organs of male lizards and snakes – are paired, although only one of them is used for mating and sperm transfer.
The organs of their females, the hemiclitors, are arranged in a similar way.
But if their presence in lizards has been known since the mid-1990s, then information about snakes has still remained contradictory. Megan Folwell and her colleagues managed to put an end to this issue.
Scientists examined the genitals of female viper-like asps Acanthophis antarcticus and found a hemiclitor under the tail, hidden deep in the folds of the skin.
Its paired parts form a triangle divided in half – according to Folwell, “in the shape of a heart.”
It was possible to confirm the nature of this organ by examining its tissues under a microscope, and also, after soaking in an iodine solution, using X-ray computed tomography.
The work showed that the hemiclitor consists mainly of connective tissue, and not of muscle, like the hemipenis. It also lacks hooks and processes that help males in mating.
At the same time, the hemiclitor is permeated with many blood vessels and nerve fibers, which provide it with great sensitivity.
According to scientists, in snakes, this organ performs the same function as in other animals: in the process of courtship and copulation, it is stimulated, enhancing the sexual behavior of females and increasing the chances of successful fertilization.
Similar work was done for eight other species of snakes: the researchers showed that their hemiclitor can be of very different sizes and shapes, located above, below or between the odorous glands, which are located at the base of the tail.
Among the snakes studied, this organ reaches the largest size in females of the Mexican muzzle (Agkistrodon bilineatus) , and remains the smallest in Ingram’s brown snake (Pseudonaja ingrami).
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