It was once believed that female hyenas get so pumped up on androgens during mating season that they actually develop a pseudo-penis. While a slightly more complicated adaptation known as sexual mimicry is probably closer to the truth, androgens do play a role. Sex hormones closely associated with aggression, androgens such as androstenedione may allow female hyenas to develop the kind of attitude and physicality they need to effectively squabble for the food their developing babies require; but this advantage comes at a heavy price. Unlike humans, the vaginal canal of a female hyena is housed inside the clitorus. Thanks to sexual mimicry, this double-duty clitorus can measure up to seven inches in length, making the birth canal an exceptionally long tube of doom. Approximately the diameter of a quarter, some 60% of offspring born to first-time hyena mothers suffocate inside the fleshy contraption which frequently tears during birth. Occasionally, these tears are so severe that the mother bleeds to death.
While female hyenas clearly got the short end of the stick, mating isn’t exactly a cake-walk for males either. Essentially attempting to inseminate a female through a straw, without the help of opposable thumbs, male hyenas may require months of practice before they’re capable of successfully performing the act. If human males were required to mount females from behind and insert their penis unto the female’s protruding vaginal canal by aiming up and back toward themselves simultaneously, I doubt we’d be worried about overpopulation.
For more information on spotted hyenas like the ones pictured above, visit the Encyclopedia of Life.
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