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Duck Reproduction is Something of an Arms-Race [VIDEO]

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Mar 27, 2013 03:42 PM EDT
duck
While many birds do not have penises, the male duck's is one of the largest in the entire animal kingdom in proportion to his body. (Photo : Reuters)

The nation's eyes are on Yale University's team currently at work researching the plasticity of duck penises - all thanks to Fox News who has turned the study into the poster child of government waste.

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Coming in at a price tag of $384,949, the project is funded by the National Science Foundation, according to recovery.gov, a site dedicated to the tracking of government money.

In particular, the study is designed by its authors to examine how "reproductive morphology covaries with season, age, and social environment in a diverse sample of duck species that differ in ecology, territoriality and breeding system."

In other words, researchers are looking to better understand how different types of ducks' sex organs correlate between said variables. And while the study is still underway, preliminary results suggest that male competition plays an important role in the evolution of the male ducks' penises.

This is not, granted, entirely shocking. However, a deeper look at duck reproduction reveals an entire mating process that's evolved around predation.

In 2007, researchers also from Yale University reported that while most birds do not have a penis (they reproduce by merely touching genital openings), ducks do. In fact, their penises are relatively huge in relation to the animal, measuring as long as 20 centimeters in some cases, all just tucked away inside their feathers.

Conducted by Patricia Brennan, the team also caught a duck penis erection on camera for the first time - a process that takes less than a half a second. According to Yale News, the team described it at the time as "explosive."

Forced copulation is, unfortunately for the female ducks, a common occurrence among the species. For this reason, they too are equipped, only in this case to repel the long, screw-shaped male duck phalluses.

In a separate study, this time focused on the anatomy of the female ducks, Brennan discovered that unlike other birds, female reproductive tracts are highly complex containing sacs that function as "dead ends" in order to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Furthermore, Brennan found a series of tight, clock-wise spirals in the tubular oviduct.

"Interestingly, the male phallus is also a spiral, but it twists in the opposite, counter-clockwise direction," said Yale ornithologist and co-author Richard Prum, according Yale News. "So the twists in the oviduct appear designed to exclude the opposing twists of the male phallus. It's an exquisite anti-lock-and-key system."

The study further discovered that the two - the female and male duck reproductive organs - seem to evolve and, in some lineages of ducks, devolve in tandem, prompting some to call it something of a reproductive arms-race.

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