Earlier last week, Radley linked to an article I sent him about a man who wanted to be implanted with Neuticles. For those of you who are unfamiliar with these amazing devices, Neuticles are prosthetic testicles that dog owners can have implanted in their emasculated pooches to help give them a spring in their steps, a smile on their faces, and a song in their hearts. As the motto on the official t-shirt says, “It’s like nothing ever changed.”
A short time later I came across another article that talked about Neuticles and their inventor, Gregg Miller, founder of the Canine Testicular Implant Corporation (Gregg’s official motto: “I’m not only the president, I’m also a client.”). The article includes this intriguing fact:
The company reached a milestone in February, when a man bought Neuticles for his bull. If inquiring minds want to know: Each lifelike bull orb is 5 inches high and 2 1/2 inches wide.
“The guy didn’t want to say much about the purchase… He didn’t let us use his name in a press release,” says Miller. “But at $695, it’s a great direction for us.”
Most readers are probably wondering what the story is behind this mysterious guy buying the bull Neuticles. Indeed, that is a very good question. But what really shocked me is the size of the things. To be frank, I was surprised that the typical bull would have me at such a disadvantage.
I realize that may sound a bit immodest, not to mention inappropriate, so please allow me to clarify. It’s a principle of biology that you can tell a lot about a species’ mating habits by the size of its testes. If they are large relative to body mass, it’s a good bet that females of the species are promiscuous. Since they’re mating with multiple males, the evolutionary arms race favors males who can, if you’ll pardon the expression, make a larger deposit. Thus, they need larger testes. The opposite is true for the lesser-endowed animals. If males are assured of having monopoly access to their mates, then there’s no reason for them to waste resources on large testicles.
This explains the surprising fact that human men are significantly better endowed than their gorilla counterparts. A successful gorilla male wins exclusive access to a harem of females, resulting in practically zero need for seminal competition. Of course, the imbalance that this creates leads to considerable physical competition among the males, which is why gorillas exhibit such sexual dimorphism: males are much, much larger than females.
Before the guys in the audience get inflated egos from this discussion, I should mention that the smaller chimpanzee has us completely outclassed. Since chimps live in highly promiscuous social groups, sperm competition is quite intense. What does this tell us that we can bring up the next time we’re stuck at a boring cocktail party? That humans are by nature much more monogamous than our nearest living evolutionary cousins, but not completely monogamous. [Note: With this blog entry I will probably get myself deleted from about a dozen cocktail party invitations.]
For further discussion of these matters, check out Jared Diamond’s book The Third Chimpanzee. Alternatively, take a look at this post about another form of sperm competition on the excellent evolution blog The Panda’s Thumb.
But we were talking about bulls. My impression of bulls’ mating behavior was that it was closer to that of the gorilla than that of the chimpanzee: one dominant bull pushing and shoving his way to nearly exclusive access to the most fetching of cows. If this were the case, even allowing for body size I wouldn’t have expected the whopping five inches reported in the Neuticles article. My presumption was backed up by the fact that I’ve actually partaken of the Rocky Mountain oyster, and my memory is of something more golf ball sized. So what gives? My curiosity piqued, I spent some time this afternoon searching the Internet for answers. [Note: If this isn't a sign that I really need a girlfriend, I don't know what is.]
The first thing I learned is that one should be very careful about what links one clicks when searching for online information about “cattle” and “mating.” I’ll spare you the details.
The second thing I learned was that my impression of bull’s mating behavior wasn’t too far off the mark. A page on the gaur, a wild ox found in Asia, reports that the dominant male will mate with about ten different females in a given mating season, but that the dominance hierarchy changes frequently.
A more thorough and interesting report comes from a study [.ppt] performed by scientists at the University of Saskatchewan. In that study, riders on horseback observed a herd of bulls and cows from a distance to record their mating behavior. The results shed some light on the Mystery of the Five-Inch Bull Balls.
One of the observations reported in the study is that though there is a hierarchy among the bulls, the dominant ones have to constantly chase off their younger challengers. Young bulls often initiate copulation with females only to be disturbed by the bigger elders, who follow a forceful strategy of, shall we say, cow-itus interruptus.
A second observation is that the dominant bulls often rely upon the lower ranking males to act as “heat detectors,” allowing the young bulls to identify receptive females before moving in themselves. This time saving strategy has its human parallel in the hiring process of Capitol Hill interns.
The net result of all of this jockeying for position is that there is no difference in the frequency of copulation between the dominant and low ranking males, even though there is a definite hierarchy when it comes to mating privileges. So, contrary to my initial impression, it might be the case that bulls have to deal with significant sperm competition.
What of the Rocky Mountain oysters? Checking the restaurant menu, it turns out that what I had assumed to be a “whole ball” appetizer may have actually been precut. The description is “small bites battered and fried to a golden brown and served with a tangy ‘cocktail’ sauce.” On the other hand, the “Fear Factor” website, of all places, reports that the things do tend to shrink when cooked. Either way, their size was misleadingly small.
It’s also possible that humans have artificially selected for large testicals in domesticated cattle since breeders sensibly take size into consideration when purchasing sires. Of course, it’s also possible that their size isn’t at all out of line for such massive animals; I’ve got no way of knowing. Perhaps further research from the University of Saskatchewan could decide the issue.
For now it’s time to put this mystery to rest and return this weblog to less testicular topics. I hope you’ve enjoyed this little foray into the biological side of things. As for me, it’s like I said after eating my first Rocky Mountain oyster: “I’ve had a ball.”