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Nature finds a Way to be Weird Again: Male Echidnas have a Four-Tipped Penis

by Sushree Mohanty

Nature finds a Way to be Weird Again: Male Echidnas have a Four-Tipped Penis

June 15, 2021

Echidnas, also popular as spiny anteaters, are bizarre animals. They have a pouch similar to a kangaroo, spines like a porcupine, a small beak like a bird, and lay eggs like a reptile. They might seem cute in digital pictures but possess no teeth, no nipples, and a four-headed penis. Yes! There’s an animal with four-tipped penises.

"We found internally they act like they have four penises merged and can use them independently,"

- Jane Fenelon, Developmental Biologist from the University of Melbourne.
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Echidnas have large and unusual brains, for their body size may be due to their enlarged neocortex.

Why are Echidnas such bizarre animals?

The platypus and echidnas are the only existing mammals that lay eggs. Belonging to the Tachyglossidae family, they are egg-laying mammals in the monotreme order. These small solitary mammals are native to Australia, Tasmania, and New Guinea. 

After mating, a female echidna lays a soft-shelled and leathery egg into her pouch. After ten days, the baby echidna, called a puggle, hatches out of the egg. The average lifespan of an echidna is estimated to be approximately sixteen years.

Echidna’s body is covered with spines like a porcupine which are the modified hair they possess. These spines are approximately 2-inch long. They don’t have any spines or hair on their undersides, faces, and legs.

Echidnas are mammals that possess no nipples. All mammals feed their young ones through nipples, but echidnas do it without nipples. Instead, they have special glands in their pouches like a milk patch secreting milk, which the little puggle laps up.

Echidnas have large and unusual brains, for their body size may be due to their enlarged neocortex. Also, like platypuses, they have an electroreceptive system.

Anyways, weird facts about Echidnas don’t stop here. Male echidnas have an unusual four-headed penis. Curiously but this might take us to wonder how they could mate with a four-headed penis?

echidna-scoolbuzz
During sex, two penis heads shut down while the other two grow bigger to make their way into the female’s reproductive tract.

Why a four-tipped penis?

Have you ever heard of unusual reproductive structure and autonomy in animals? Yes! In the universe of mysteries, even the earthen animal kingdom surprises us all the time. If you don’t second this, just have a look at the magnificent four-tipped penile morphology; one can even refer to it as a monstrosity!

During sex, two penis heads shut down while the other two grow bigger to make their way into the female’s reproductive tract. Confused as to how two? Yes! Female Echidnas have two-branched reproductive tracts. That means not every rosette or head produces sperm at once. Instead, they use two of their penis heads at a time to ejaculate sperm.

Male echidnas alternate their penis heads while mating. At a time, they use only two heads. Scientists found out that this one-sided ejaculation plays a significant role in building competition between the sperm. Sperms from different males compete against each other and attempt to fertilize the female. 

Research statistics show that it is a very peculiar behavior but a pattern through which echidnas alternate among the quartet of penis ends. They also remember the penis heads they used last time.

How and who discovered this bizarre fact?

Once some injured short-beaked echidnas (mostly the Tachyglossus aculeatus ones) were admitted to the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary hospital. Sadly, they didn’t make it through. 

While studying the injured ones, Fenelon and her colleagues found out that Echidnas can regulate their blood flow. They can direct it towards one side of their penis. Hence, they can control their penis heads. 

Then they studied their tamed echidnas. They found out that by alternating the penis of each side, it can ejaculate ten times more without any significant pause. Strange, but maybe the animal flaunts his potential here. 

Anyways, there’s another significant fact about the Echidnas. That is, after mating or after one ejaculation, sperms bundle up and work together to reach an egg, try to fertilize the female, and develop into a little puggle.

“We do know that they only use their penis for mating, not urine, Because they don’t need it for urine, they have the freedom to make it much more elaborate, and this is something you see in other species that only use it for mating.” Fenelon to the Australian Geographic.

Marsupials also have forked multi-pronged penises. Their structure helps them to get their sperm into the twin uteruses of female marsupials. Safe to say that “Nature finds a way, and how!” 

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