Science Question From a Toddler: Insect Sex


28 Responses to “Science Question From a Toddler: Insect Sex”

  1. Anonymous says:

    This comment contributes nothing to discussion other than a giant THANKS to Maggie for this post.

    Moderate as you will, but thanks, Maggie, for clearing up a question that I had never asked before.

  2. IamInnocent says:

    So, if I got this right: male cockroaches have a better chance to procreate if they fuck with other male cockroaches’ sperm? Hummmmmm… bears meditation.

  3. teufelsdroch says:

    maggie, weren’t you going to convince us you weren’t creepy? Cockroach penises ain’t the start, love.

  4. Jazzhigh says:

    I don’t know why I read the whole post. I knew I was going to be oooked out by it. But I just kept reading…and reading. Even after the picture of the roaches sunbathing, I kept going. And there was the sentence I knew was coming, filled with words like “hooked” and “whip-like” and “spiny”, forcing the inevitable cockroach mating visualization. I can’t blame anyone but myself.

  5. Takuan says:

    sounds sensible to me.

  6. tuckels says:

    Again Maggie, you have outdone yourself. One question: how hairy are the cockroach’s bits?

  7. Chocolatey Shatner says:

    Takuan, that wasn’t a unicorn chaser at all…

  8. Anonymous says:

    Yes! Cockroaches do have a penis, though the proper term for the portion of male genitalia that functions to directly inseminate the female is “aedeagus” – just thought that you’d like to hear it straight from the entomologist’s mouth! :)

  9. StudioRobot says:

    Maggie you rock!

    THIS is why i originally started frequenting BB back in the day – to have shit i wouldn’t even THINK of dropped on me!

    NOTE: BoingBoing is still my first love.

  10. giblfiz says:

    I think that counts as a penis. The bulb shape at the head of the (human) penis is actually their to help remove other people’s semen as well. (think of it as a sort of plunger action, which is pretty much why sex takes more than 10 seconds) By that measure cocroaches ?penis’? are very similar to human ones.

  11. Takuan says:

    not a grip safety?

  12. takeshi says:

    An illuminating post. Even if there remains some question of sexual utility, it’s quite clear that a cockroach cannot have a “penis,” as “penises” themselves seem exclusively reserved for species that have an designated “penis” or some other organ called a “penis,” which a cockroach simply does not. At least, not according to any anatomical illustrations of cockroaches I’ve seen, and there have been a few.

    Maggie, I’d like to join the deafening chorus of people who’d like to see you stay here forever. And more posts like this, please. Also, I’d love to hear your thoughts on spiders that can catch and eat birds. Yuck.

  13. Takuan says:

    oooh! film industry joke:
    Q: what’s the difference between pink and purple?

    A: a grip.

  14. ridl says:

    Wow – Okay – Band names in this thread:


    “The Entomologist’s Mouth”

    “Rival Spermatophores”


    “Isabella Rossellini’s Green Porn”

    Amazing. Thank you. That is all.

  15. IamInnocent says:

    “The bulb shape at the head of the (human) penis is actually their to help remove other people’s semen as well. (think of it as a sort of plunger action, which is pretty much why sex takes more than 10 seconds)”

    Oh boy! Oh Christ!
    Now I need to scrape a unicorn somehow FAST!!!

    j/k (almost)

  16. ZombyWoof says:

    I agree with Studiorobot. You Rock, Maggie! By far my favorite guest blogger to date. These guys have needed someone like you.

    @GIBLFIZ – Thank you for the internal visualization of sloppy seconds – I owe you.

  17. AAeiouy says:

    Whether penises arise, O priests, or whether penises do not arise,
    it remains a fact and the fixed and necessary constitution of being
    that all names of penises are transitory…

    and cockroaches have at least one, and arguably three, which are intromittent organs (“outies”), which they use to manipulate female genitalia (“innies”).
    What entomologists call penises has more to do with their own sensibilities than homology. You could equally well call them chopped liver. For example, daddy long legs traditionally have a “penis,” as does the ur-insect, the “bristletail” (Archaeognatha). Some entomologists just froze up in their naming organ and called them aedeagi, in some but not all groups. Unknown if all are homologous (as ours is among mammals, possibly all amniotes).


  18. IamInnocent says:

    Tak, you are clearly out of practice.

  19. jmullan says:

    The best way to sex a cockroach is with a hammer and a gallon of bleach.

  20. Anonymous says:

    where’s our freakin’ unicorn already?? ack!

  21. Maggie Koerth-Baker says:

    BTW: I and the child’s mother recommend thinking twice before you Google “cockroach” and “penis” together.

    There are strange people out there.

  22. AAeiouy says:

    You probably meant Maggie, but since you asked about spiders that can catch and eat birds yuck, I’ll just report that two groups can do this, the tarantulas or “bird eaters,” which are not very abundant and probably don’t eat all that many birds, and the giant golden orbweavers, which are, relatively speaking, abundant and will eat birds if they possibly can, which they have been regularly observed to do.
    Further, and why I bring that up, is that giant golden orbweavers also have unusual sex, which fits this thread, e.g.:

    “According to sexual cannibalism theory, male complicity in terminal mating can be adaptive when the male’s future reproductive value is low relative to the benefits of self sacrifice. Spiders and insects that exhibit male sacrifice behavior (either complicity in cannibalism or spontaneous death associated with copulation) often also have male genitalia that stereotypically become broken or disfigured the first time they are used for copulation, potentially lowering his future reproductive value.”

    That “potentially” is typical scientific understatement.

  23. AAeiouy says:

    The centipedes definitely count. They hang from the cave ceiling and snag the bats. Centipedes are untrustworthy.

    The Nat Geo film is a bit misleading. The orb weaver is Eriophora sp., and, true, they do sometimes eat bats. That particular bat, though, was basically flung into the web by a human. Nephila (golden silk spider) webs are a lot tougher than Eriophora, so while the latter may sometimes get lucky, Nephila could be said to routinely spin webs capable of stopping small birds.

  24. AAeiouy says:

    This is a lot more complicated that cockroaches. For starters, penis = “intromittent organ,” i.e. something males insert in females. It has evolved repeatedly and independently across Life. Thus, each instance might be for a different reason.
    Or, if you insist on restricting “penis” to mean what male humans have (a la Maggie), then it started back in the Mesozoic: one particularly brilliant species invented the thing, and it has been with us ever since.
    Regardless, two theories rule: one is cryptic female choice, the other is sexual conflict.
    Per (1), there is no functional difference between what boy cockroaches have and what boy humans have. Intromittent organs function to manipulate female desire such that she chooses A’s rather than B’s sperm to fertilize her eggs. This has to do w runaway sexual selection–it doesn’t matter what the doofus on the end of the thingy is, as long as she likes it or what you do with it, she will “choose” you.
    Per (2), females are fighting males over who controls a priceless resource (the future). Both are necessary to the other, but beyond that, they share few interests. Hence the remarks about scooping the previous male’s stuff out, or barbs, hooks, levers, points, and pliers. This is a much darker world view, and leads to weird, but logical, strategies like fanatic monogamy.
    Whatever, the insect “penis” has also evolved more than once, for example, in spiders, where males have no nerves in their genitalia (imagine).

Leave a Reply