Snake clitoris described for first time

La Trobe University, University of Adelaide and University of Michigan Museum of Zoology researchers have completed a world-first anatomical description of the clitoris (hemiclitores) in female snakes, detailed in the study First evidence of hemiclitores in snakes, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

Female genitalia are conspicuously overlooked in comparison to their male counterparts, limiting academic understanding of sexual reproduction across vertebrates like snakes and lizards.

Co-author Dr Jenna Crowe-Riddell, Postdoctoral Researcher in Neuroecology at La Trobe University said the study sparks many questions.

“It opens up new questions about the dynamics of snake mating and initiates new conversations about a whole other side of the story that we've been missing, which is the female anatomy,” Dr Crowe-Riddell said.

“When (Megan Folwell, PhD student researcher) asked the question it occurred to us that scientists have never thought to do this. So that's why we looked into some of the cells that underlie it and found red blood cells and nerves that are consistent with erectile tissue – all the hallmarks of the clitoris.”

“When you open up an anatomy textbook, and imagine you have a detailed drawing of the male genitalia, for the female genitalia a whole part of it is missing, essentially. So we're filling in that missing spot.”

Dr Crowe-Riddell says the next thing to do after this discovery is to look at other species of snakes and how they mate, through coercion or it could be seduction.

“Because one thing's for sure is that the hemipenes are incredibly variable, genitalia just evolves super quickly across animals and snakes are no exception.”

“Now we've got this anatomy, we can kind of flip the coercion assumption and say, well it could be seduction and that just hasn't really been considered that much for snakes. It's definitely considered for mammals. I think snakes have been left behind because they're scaly and a bit, bit weird, honestly,” Dr Crowe-Riddell said.

The team used bio-imaging techniques and dissection to find the hemiclitores on snakes used in the study.

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