5 min read

5 Things Animals Do With Their Downstairs Bits Besides Sex

<p><a class="checked-link" href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/rockinred1969/6048780623" style="text-decoration: none;">amanderson2</a>/<a class="checked-link" href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/amanderson/453992073/sizes/m/" style="text-decoration: none;">Flickr/CC BY 2.0</a></p>

Mating is boring - if you're looking for animals doing what all animals do, you've come to the wrong place. Instead, here's what happens when animal genitalia get weird (within PG-13 parameters):

1. Moths blast bats with genital sound.

(liesvanrompaey/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

It seems like a superpower that shouldn't exist except in Godzilla movies, but hawkmoths "zap bats with sonic blasts from their genitals," according to a 2013 study in the journal Nature. By rubbing their bug bits together, the moths produce an ultrasonic sound that may ward off predators or disrupt bat sonar.

2. Elephants get a leg up and swat flies.

(Ryan Kilpatrick/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

As science writer Ed Yong noted, bull elephants are rarely at a loss for a flyswatter, belly-scratcher or, if the need calls for it, a fifth leg. "As we watched in baffled amusement (and the faintest tinge of inadequacy)," Yong wrote, "he used his penis to prop himself up." If your attention has been grabbed by this depiction of pachyderm prehensility, yes, there's a photo.

3. The boatman sings nice (and loud!).

(bruceruston/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

By size, the water boatman is the noisiest animal in the world, but he doesn't have the loudest mouth. (Guess where this is heading.) Instead, the aquatic insect grinds his penis against his body, generating a mating call that can reach 99.2 decibels - more powerful than a freight train.

4. Doves stay frosty down south.

(swong95765/Flickr/CC By 2.0)

On the underside of reptiles and birds, you'll find a cloaca, a Swiss Army organ for all kinds of wonderful biological behaviors. And there's some evidence that the cloaca releases not just bodily fluids, but heat. Doves rely mainly on their skin and mouths to cool, but when things get really hot - over 100 degrees Fahrenheit - their cloacas kick in, accounting for almost a quarter of their bodies' cooling.

5. Bonobos reenact their favorite scenes from "The Princess Bride."

(Jeroen Kransen/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

Male bonobos occasionally use their penises the way fencers use foils (a floppy sort of sword) - that is, for fun. The eminent primatologist Frans B. M. de Waal, writing in Scientific American in 1995, put it like this:

Male bonobos, too, may engage in pseudocopulation but generally perform a variation. Standing back to back, one male briefly rubs his scrotum against the buttocks of another. They also practice so-called penis-fencing, in which two males hang face to face from a branch while rubbing their erect penises together.

And with bonobos - the poster primate for sexual behaviors - there's plenty more where that came from.