The Loh Down On Science

Louse Genderswap

Yoshizawa et al., Curr. Biol., May 2014

The complicated anatomy of lice of the Neutroglia species. Male structures are shown in gray, female structures in orange.

Here's a gender-bending story you won't believe!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science, talking lice.

No, not the kind in your kids' hair.

These newly discovered lice species live in caves in eastern Brazil.  According to an international team of entomologists?  The tiny insects are a sexual revelation wrapped up in an odd ... uh ... package.

Turns out that the female louse has kind of an inflatable penis!  But with spines.  The team call it a "gynosome."  And, it's big – up to 15 percent the length of the female's body.  To mate, the female inserts the organ into the male's vagina-like pouch.  Then she inflates it and keeps it there.

For up to 70 hours!

The spines hold her steady while her organ extracts sperm.  When the researchers tried to pry the coupling lice apart, the male broke in two – but the gynosome didn't budge!

Sex-role reversal in animals helps scientists study sexual evolution.

And ... they get to make up words like "gynosome."  Which is now stuck in your head.  All.  Day.  And you're welcome.

***** For more 90-SECOND SCIENCE FACTS, click here.*****

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, in partnership with the University of California, Irvine, and 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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