Why do female hyenas have penises?

homelandDid you know that female hyenas have a false penis and scrotum? This phenomenon of controversial nature has social functions and an evolutionary origin related to embryonic development.

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According to the Spanish magazine “Moy Entertainment”, female hyenas, or so-called spotted hyenas (Crocuta), are among the strange mammals that have male reproductive organs known as pseudo-female penises.

They are the only mammals whose females do not have an external vaginal opening. Despite the change in internal structure, the external resemblance to the true male reproductive organs is so strong that it cannot be discerned with the naked eye, except by experts who can do so or if the female of this animal does not breastfeed.

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This condition is so rare that hyenas have long been believed to be androgenic. The famous pirate Sir Walter Raleigh excluded hyenas from animals that rode into Noah’s Ark because they were not purebred animals. He pointed out that it was a kind of unnatural mix between dogs and cats. Today we know that, in addition to myths, the closest evolutionary group is herpestidae, better known as mangusta.

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The origin of this particular anatomical structure, exclusive to this species – the other two hyena species, the striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena) and the brown hyena (Parahyaena brunea) – has long been a mystery. It was also thought to be some kind of evolutionary adaptation, but it could not be determined. In fact, discovering how it was formed was easier than discovering how it developed, according to what was translated by Watan.

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pseudo penis formation

In fact, this fake penis is an extreme modification of the clitoris. The lips of the vulva are posterior, resulting in the appearance of the scrotum similar to that of men, and the clitoris closes, forming a tube that can pass 17 cm, through which pass both the urethra and the genital tract.

This extraordinary structure was formed during embryonic development. All mammals share a common embryonic model of the reproductive organs, in which the embryo is sexually unclear at first and contains all the precursors and structures necessary for the development of sex, male or female.

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As the magazine says, the internal reproductive organs – the ovaries or testicles – develop, in principle, as determined by genes. In the external genitalia, if nothing interferes, the normal flow of the female reproductive organs is the formation of the “vulva and clitoris”. The male pathway – the scrotum and penis – involves a hormonal change, usually caused by the secretion of testosterone from the first testicles.

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The other organ that produces testosterone is the placenta, the magazine explains. In female mammals, there is an enzyme called aromatase which reduces testosterone, allowing the fetus to develop properly. But the mutation means that spotted hyenas do not break it down, transfer this hormone through the umbilical cord, and cause their offspring – male and female – to develop the male’s external anatomy.

In a related context, both sexual intercourse and childbirth occur through this channel. And both involve difficulties. Managing clitoral penetration into an erection with this penis is a tricky job and not suitable for first time intercourse with hyenas. In this way, females not only avoid obligations, but can afford to choose male hyenas. If the female feels alienated from the male hyena, she has the ability to eliminate the sperm, or most of it, simply through urine.

Both sexual intercourse and childbirth occur through this channel

When it comes to childbirth, it is extremely complicated and puppies often do not give birth alive due to the long journey they have to go through – especially among first time mothers and sometimes tearing during childbirth which later leaves many scars. distinct longitudinal.

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The social functions of possessing a fake penis

According to the magazine, spotted hyenas maintain a matriarchal society, in addition to the fact that females are more aggressive than other species and more than males as well, and are usually the herd leaders and the first to feed. Most women dominate almost all men.

Hyenas have a ritual greeting similar to that of dogs. They stand parallel and in opposite directions and lick each other’s anal and genital areas.

They often raise the back leg to ease the partner during the relationship. During that greeting, the subordinate individual declares submission to the dominant. One of the gestures is that submission; It is an erection of the penis or what is known as a false penis depending on the gender of the person being greeted.

When evolution does not seek to adapt

For a long time, scientists thought about the conditions that created this fake penis in female hyenas. However, this event is not related to natural adaptation, but rather to the preservation of a non-selective trait.

Actually; It is not the female with pseudopenis who carries the genetic trait that expresses her identity, but her mother. If adaptation were present, then this pseudo-penis would not exist, but the same mutation that causes the offspring of female hyenas to develop this pseudo-penis. Therefore, selective pressure does not affect the mutation carrier so much, but its offspring.

As it is an effect that occurs during pregnancy, it is the genetics of the mother that exposes her daughter to this trait, so it is caused by a mutation – which due to genetic displacement and completely by chance – has spread to whole species of hyenas .

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