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Mister Mom, motherfucker

April 4, 2010

There’s been a lot written lately of how everyone’s favorite renaissance man of the sea is actually a bit of a douche. But really, are you surprised? How long did you think Big Science Patriarchy was going to let the whole nurturing-male-invests-resources-in-brood stand without a gender-role smack-down?

What a douche

“What, you think I’m pregnant cause I have too much love for one man to bear alone? Blow me. I’ll show you tasty love, motherfucker…”

& then it’s nom nom embryo pipefish.

As if this should come as a shock to anyone who knows anyone who happens to own a penis. [Note to self: look-up if pipefish actually have penises]

Actually it’s all part of that crazy game played by many who romp for reproduction: post-mating sexual selection, what happens after the junk’s in the trunk.

Pre-mating sexual selection is weird enough on it’s own, as many of us can can attest to from personal experience. But post-mss is when things get freaky. Critters throw a whole lotta crazy shit against the wall in the hope that it helps them stick, as it were, from copulatory plugs to corkscrew vaginas. Yep, it’s that old trope about the war of the sexes, and often what’s good for the good for the goose just makes the gander jealous and passive-aggressive.

Take the issue of sexual dimorphism, where there is a large difference between the males and females of a species. This presents a sticky issue for sexing offspring, because a wide divergence between males and females tends to mean that the genes which make one sex fitter often place their opposite-sex progeny at a disadvantage. What’s politically correct genetic community to do?

Daughters, I should think.

Recently, two biologists studying the brown anole lizard, where body-size sexual dimorphism is quite pronounced, noticed a rather interesting tendency: females produced more male babies from mating with larger males, and more female babies from mating with smaller males. Woah. As the authors write, “This suggests a form of cryptic sex-ratio bias that may allow females to adaptively sort genes with sex-specific fitness effects into sons and daughters.”

It’s no great surprise this research comes out of Dartmouth College, quite familiar with their own brand of cryptic sex-ratio bias.

So the female brown anoles are exerting some measure of control over the sex of their progeny based on whether the daddies are butch or femme. Smart! How do they do it? Well, TBD as they say. Science marches onward.

As for the war of the sexes, however, that march is, as always, frustratingly circular.

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