Scientists have discovered that snakes do have clitorises, ending a long-held assumption that the female snakes don’t have a sexual organ.
While previous studies had mistaken snakes’ clitorises for scent glands or underdeveloped versions of penises, a new study published in the journal proceedings of the Royal Society B, revealed that snakes have not one but two individual clitorises called hemiclitores, separated by tissue and hidden by skin on the underside of the tail.
Megan Folwell, a Ph.D. candidate at Australia’s University of Adelaide and the study’s lead author said;
“Across the animal kingdom female genitalia are overlooked in comparison to their male counterparts.
“Our study counters the long-standing assumption that the clitoris (hemiclitores) is either absent or non-functional in snakes.”
The genitalia of male snakes and lizards, a group known as squamates, has been studied extensively since the 1800s, three of the study’s authors wrote earlier this year. They noted scientists have uncovered all kinds of information about the male genitalia, called a hemipenis in squamates, including about the size, shape and even whether it has spines.
But ever since the snake penises were discovered, female snake genitalia has been “conspicuously overlooked,” the new study says, with many assuming for years that the visible organs were underdeveloped hemipenes or scent glands.
To paint a more accurate picture of the female snake’s anatomy, Folwell and a group of international scientists analyzed adult females of nine snake species from different areas of the world, including Australia, Central America and South America.
The lead author said;
“I know it [the clitoris] is in a lot of animals and it doesn’t make sense that it wouldn’t be in all snakes.
“I just had to have a look, to see if this structure was there or if it’s just been missed.”
They found that the animals have not one, but two individual hemiclitores separated by connective tissue, providing the first complete description of the animal’s clitoris, known as hemiclitores in squamates.
Unlike lizard clitorises, the study says, the snake sex organs don’t have spines or retractor muscles, but come in all kinds of sizes and in slightly varying locations.
They also discovered that the snakes’ clitorises have nerve bundles and fibers that could indicate tactile sensitivity, “similar to the mammalian clitoris,” the study says.
If male snakes were to provide sensory stimulation to the organs, it could “elicit female receptivity” and even help promote longer and more frequent mating, as well as better rates of fertilization, researchers said.
Researcher and University of Adelaide professor Kate Sanders said;
“We found the heart-shaped snake hemiclitores is composed of nerves and red blood cells consistent with erectile tissue — which suggests it may swell and become stimulated during mating.
“This is important because snake mating is often thought to involve coercion of the female — not seduction.”
More research is needed about hemiclitores, Folwell said, but their discovery is an essential first step.
“We are proud to contribute this research particularly as female genitalia across every species is unfortunately still taboo.”
“We are proud to contribute this research, particularly as female genitalia across every species is unfortunately still taboo.”