I’m sure that a lot of you who just read this title don’t agree. “My sex life not as good as that of a little blob of organic matter. What are you thinking?”
In fact, most people don’t even know that bacteria have sex. Judging from all of those microscope pictures, bacteria certainly don’t look like the type of creatures that enjoy themselves in bed frequently.
Which is partially true. Bacteria actually have children by cutting themselves in half in a process called binary fission, producing two versions of themselves (the extreme form of C-section). So bacteria don’t have to have sex to have children.
But that doesn’t mean that bacteria can’t enjoy themselves and have very, very feisty sex lives.
Scientists have a professional name for bacterial sex: conjugation.
In conjugation, a bacterium forms a pilus, which is basically a projection of the cell’s cytoplasm (aka cell jelly). The bacterium can then find another bacterium to “hook up” with. The two bacteria connect with the pilus and are able to exchange circular pieces of genes.
After they have exchanged genes, the bacteria separate, and each bacterium, filled with new genes, rushes off to find other bacteria who don’t have the genes.
The bacteria hook up with each other over and over again with pili (the plural of pilus), until all the bacteria have had their fill of sex and genes.
It may not be immediately apparent why bacterial sex is better than human sex, but it is in terms of evolutionary fitness. While bacteria are still able to produce offspring quickly through binary fission, they also get to exchange genetic diversity through conjugation.
Bacterial sex lives are better because they allow genetic exchange during their lifetimes, whereas human sex fixes children’s genes for the offsprings’ lifetimes.
Other animals have some pretty wacky sex lives, too.
Take, for example, Australian redback spiders. Male Australian redback spiders have two sexual organs and perform up to 100 minutes worth of foreplay, which consists of dancing on a female Australian redback spider’s web before being allowed to deposit sperm from one of his sex organs in the female.
The male must then perform another dance before being allowed to deposit his second store of sperm from his other sex organ.
But if the male’s foreplay performance is not long enough, then the female is more likely to eat the male spider during sex.
Ew. Talk about taking passion to a whole new level. Here’s a case where the guys sort of lose out in sex.
Birds also have their share of sex secrets.
Hummingbirds, being the little busybodies that they are, rarely stop flying. In fact, they even have sex while flying. When it comes to love, there’s no time to stop for a nest.
Sparrows, meanwhile, are known for having frequent extramarital affairs while they are nesting with their own husbands. When the male sparrows aren’t looking, their wives run off to enjoy themselves with other bachelor sparrows. Scientists call it an evolutionary technique to increase the gene pool.
I call it overindulgence.
Female crickets have sex so frequently that they don’t even want a long-term relationship. In fact, while female crickets have sex, they will mark the males with personal chemicals so that the next time they go out on a midnight tryst, they’ll be able to tell whom they’ve mated with and whom they haven’t. Females are unwilling to mate with the same male twice.
But there’s more. Now let’s talk about chimpanzees.
No, not the innocent, cuddly little apes in zoos? They wouldn’t do anything naughty, would they?
But they do. In fact, chimpanzees are known for engaging in the ape equivalent of prostitution. A male chimpanzee will often present a female chimpanzee with pieces of meat to entice her into having sex with him.
Researchers from the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany have found that chimpanzees who don’t offer food have sex only half as much as those chimpanzees who do.
And there you have it. The next time you see apes at the zoo, I guarantee they won’t seem like the same innocuous creatures you always thought they were.
So, which animal are you?
Kevin Hwang is a junior at Athens High School, takes classes at Ohio University and is a columnist for The Post. Think of any other animals? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org