With over 4 million articles, Wikipedia is an invaluable resource, whether you're throwing a term paper together at the last minute, or want to see when the last time was that someone landed something on the moon, before China did last week. But follow enough links, and you get sucked into some seriously strange places. We explore some of Wikipedia's oddities in our 4,401,984-week series, Wiki Wormhole.
This Week's Entry: Animal Sexual Behavior
What It's About: Birds do it. Bees do it. And you don't want to know what diving beetles get up to. Yes, as we speak, all over the world, millions of animals are doin' it, their methods ranging from fascinating to horrifying. Naturally, Wikipedia is there to catalog all of the noteworthy zoological boot-knocking that Isabella Rossellini didn't already get to.
Strangest Fact: The spotted hyena is the only mammal without a vaginal opening. Instead, the female a pseudo-penis, an appendage that, in some animals, is merely an enlarged clitoris, but which the hyena uses for urination, intercourse, and in what has to be the most painful thing in the entire animal kingdom, childbirth. When spotted hyenas mate, the male's penis slides inside of the female's. The difficulty of this maneuver means that females call the shots—males show submissive behavior when approaching a prospective partner—and it also means that rape, unfortunately common in the animal kingdom, is impossible.
Controversy: We're not the only species who likes porn. Many species become aroused by watching their peers mate. But in one study, rhesus macaques were willing to give up juice (which they valued highly) simply for a glimpse of a female's hindquarters. Zoo pandas have also experienced a baby boom, as zookeepers finally realized that getting the animals in the mood—not always an easy task—just takes a little panda porn.
Thing We Were Happiest To Learn: Sorry, religious conservatives. Animals are here, they're queer, and that may even include steer (it definitely includes female cows). While homosexuality was long depicted as unnatural, study of the animal kingdom shows it's everywhere in nature and has been documented in at least 500 species. In fact, it has yet to be proven that there's a species that doesn't have any gay members. One study of giraffes suggests that 90 percent of the sex male giraffes have is with other males. Gay sex is believed to strengthen social bonds and diffuse competition between animals, but there are also gay animal couples who pair up for life, most famously two male Penguins in the Central Park Zoo who hatched and raised a chick together.
Thing We Were Unhappiest To Learn: Animals are no more masters of their domain than we are. Horse breeders have long known that male horses will self-stimulate—even ones who have been castrated—and attempting to discourage the behavior just makes them want to do it more. Some animals even use sex toys—female ferrets will stimulate themselves with a smooth pebble, and birds often copulate with grass, leaves, or mounds of earth. Of course, while animals of every stripe masturbate, it's still dirty and shameful when you do it.
Also noteworthy: Steve Martin once joked that "dolphins are the only animals besides humans who have sex for money." (the original line, now known to be erroneous, is that only those two species have sex for pleasure and not merely reproduction). Little did he know, but animal prostitution isn't unheard of. Many animals will trade food for sex. Female penguins, for example, will put out in exchange for pebbles, which they need to build their nests.
Best Link to Elsewhere On Wikipedia: We know we already linked to it above, but you're not going to beat Green Porno, the series of short films written and directed by Isabella Rossellini, covering mating rituals of the dragonfly, spider, bee, praying mantis, earthworm, snail, and housefly, with Rossellini in costume as each animal.