Science

Happy Snakes

Some considerable time ago , when I was CEO of an organisation involved in Animal Health, I was shown some particularly interesting Ticks. I say particularly interesting, in fairness I hadn’t given much thought to ticks before that job but since they are the carriers of animal ( and human) disease, they suddenly formed a new area of interest to me as a non scientific layman. 

The person  showing me them was a a very dedicated and intense South African Scientist whose specialism this was. 

“ Mr Sloan this is a very interesting and beautiful tick.”

Humm looks like a black dot I thought but I kept my scepticism tucked behind a smile that imitated intense attention.

“ Not as we see now but under the microscope” my scientific friend told me in triumph. So I bent forward and pressed my eye to the instrument and looked. She was right it was intensely colourful and beautiful for an entity that is  responsible for the deaths of nearly a million cattle a year  and with that the destruction of the income  base for hundreds of thousands of African farmers. 

“ You see this is a very specialist tick” My smile  was now one of genuine interest.

“ You only find it in one place in the entire world” She said

I had to enquire where that was because that was obviously required of me. 

“ Six inches up the Anus of a Rhinoceros” came the reply.

There are times when you regret the words that then follow. I’m not sure I do though, I think they are the product of a necessarily enquiring mind.

“ I have two  questions” I said  as my new friend nodded encouragement. 

“What on earth caused you to go looking , and did the Rhinoceros mind ?”

From the very matter of fact answer that followed I began to realise that scientists have a very different sense of humour from the rest of us and irony is lost on some of them. Her boss however who became a great friend had to feign an urgent need for the lavatory as he grasped his face, trying to hold back  tears of laughter. 

I have had a healthy respect for ticks ( and scientists ) ever since.  

It was though with a similar sense of awe that I received an article sent to me by my wife following my rather dismissive “oh get on with you, you have made that up” over the breakfast table. 

The article is from the Guardian and is entitled “ Snakes have a clitoris: scientists overcome a massive Taboo around  female genitalia” 

A fascinating read (if you like that kind of thing, who knows, there are probably websites……  ) and quite eye opening about both snakes and scientists. I was at first driven back to my original thoughts on ticks  ….” why did they go looking ?” 

Apparently they have not one but two clitorises, but science had not caught up with the fact.( Presumably, given the reproduction of them,  male snakes had), but I digress. There is abundant research on the male snake’s penis. Apparently snakes and lizards have hemipenis, two penises with spikes and hooks. Now we know that the female snake receives these through the requisite organ that allows, one assumes, a comfortable copulation.

I have to admit a degree of surprise here. To the mere layman, if I had  been researching the snakes male sex organ it would seem logical that there would be a female one ? Otherwise how do we get baby snakes?  But you can see from  that idiotic assertion  that I am not a scientist.  Apparently there is a Taboo on research of female erogenic function. And I kinda get that particularly given the decades of male domination of science.

The article  ends with the slightly worrying assertion that in terms of this  Taboo,  science had assumed that the human clitoris had 8,000 nerve fibres 20% less than it actually has and that assertion came from the study of cows.

 Again two observations on  that scientific failure, how did they finally find out? Also it seems the scientists are too dedicated to their work and need to get out more. 

And keep away from cows. 

But within this comes for me the inevitable question that really I suppose exposes the human predilection for curiosity. Someone had to be the first  to ask the question. 

Just like the questions “ what happens if I strike this flint near that straw”  “what might happen if I dive from this 30m metre platform”, “ what might occur if we vote for Brexit?”

Actually the last one was less scientific and more based on the reading of Tarot cards . 

Someone had to ask the question, someone had to fill in the forms to state their interest in order to get the funds for the PhD research, someone has to ask a Professor  “ can I study the snake’s  clitoris ?” To which I assume the only response could have been :-

“ AT LAST, I’m so sick of snake penis research.” 

Which begs the question on this as with many PhD research programmes   “ what exactly do we get out of this” other than perhaps an understanding of why so many snakes seem to be smiling. 

The human mind has many avenues, some are more predictable than others.

Image by Udhayan1983, CC BY-SA 3.0

1 reply »

  1. I often ask myself the question….who thought of researching that, and why? And how did they get the funding to do so?