Salamanders Act Out a Really Misogynistic Science Fiction Story

Here's an example of truth being not only stranger than fiction, but more politically questionable as well. Salamanders in the northeastern United States are mating and producing hordes of female hybrid sex parasites that threaten to overwhelm the species.

Around this time of year, deep in the woods of Pennsylvania, salamanders are desperately mating in ponds. They are so desperate that something forbidden is happening. The Blue-Spotted Salamander and the Jefferson's Salamander are giving in to their lust for each other. The male's irresistible mating dance convinces the female to accept his packet of sperm, to fertilize her eggs. And a hybrid is being born.

Such things have happened in years past, and produced salamanders with one set of genes from the Jefferson's Salamander, and one set of genes from the Blue-Spotted Salamander. Interestingly, these hybrids didn't need to mate to survive. Their eggs could develop unprompted, creating clones of the mother salamander. But mate they did, and they produced salamanders with two sets of genes from one of their pure-bred ancestors and one set of genes from the other.

A little experimenting on the unfertilized eggs of these salamanders showed that the eggs could also develop into clones, but first their surface needed to be perturbed. The scientists doing the experiment did this using a needle. The triple-gened hybrids did it using the sperm of male salamanders. The sperm would stimulate the eggs, very occasionally creating quadruple-gened monstrosities, but most of the time it would simply be discarded.

This makes the triple-gened hybrids a kind of sexual parasite. They rely on the male sperm to stimulate their eggs, but they discard the actual sperm, and don't let the male pass on its genes. Instead they create many, many clones of themselves, which then go on to mate with more males in the next generation. This particular genetic configuration could take over a population. In one pond, 75 percent of sampled were clones. Scientists estimated that about 90 percent of the population was female, meaning there was one male for every nine females, and seven of those females would not be passing on the genes in his sperm. The female hybrid clones might be using voracious sex parasitism to wipe out their competition and take over the pond.

If someone wrote a science fiction book about that, I would pick it to pieces viciously. (Though, technically men should as well, since it would imply that they're no smarter than salamanders.)

Image: Vermont Biology Technical Note 1

[Via Snakebit]