Most definitely NSFW unless you work in a zoo: the tapir’s prehensile penis

by Matthew Cobb

I suppose I have to explain why I stumbled across this video. I am giving a talk about the sense of smell tomorrow, and will be giving my (adult) audience some androstenone to smell. Some people have suggested this is a human pheromone – indeed it is marketed as a sex aid for both men and women (“attract women fast” “attract men fast” say the bottles).

In fact, all you will attract is a sow – it is used to bring pigs into heat. Many humans in fact have a mutation which means either they can’t smell it, or it smells very attractive. The remainder think it smells foul. This variability alone suggests strongly it isn’t a pheromone (indeed, there are no known human pheromones).

Anyway, I wanted a picture of a sow showing the flehmen response which is shared by many mammals when they are smelling pheromones. Google, which will now be able to blackmail me by handing over my search to the NSA or GCHQ, came up with this video some folk filmed of two tapirs at it in a zoo.

Please don’t press play if you are likely to be offended. But it’s just Darwin’s creatures doing what comes naturally, folks! The male’s penis is surprisingly prehensile – a character shared by many other mammals but particularly graphic in this case.

Those of you who want to know more, I suggest you just go the whole hog and search for ‘tapir penis’, but be careful what you wish for. There are an awful lot of videos/pictures out there, and you might have a tough time explaining your interest to your significant other/parent/boss/government.

I have been able to find only one serious paper about the tapir penis, and that one concentrates on the gross anatomy of the genitalia of both sexes, without mentioning this prehensile business. I assumed that Ed Yong must have posted on this, but a search for ‘Ed Yong Tapir penis’ (that must have amused the NSA) failed to bring back anything more than Ed’s usual collection of ducks, flies and elephants. The tapir’s penis awaits its Boswell. . .

16 Comments

  1. revjimbob
    Posted June 25, 2013 at 6:32 am | Permalink

    The still pic is enough for me, thank you.

  2. Alex Shuffell
    Posted June 25, 2013 at 6:48 am | Permalink

    Is it a sign of a good scientist to find everything fascinating?
    I’ve shared plenty of interesting penises to my friends on Facebook, only one or two understand why the penis of a Tapir, Turtle, Sperm whale, Echidna, slug or a Duck is fascinating. The rest think of me as some weird, lonely, pervert (I’m certainly not a pervert). Have you seen the video of a duck getting an erection? It has to be shown in slow motion.

    • Posted June 25, 2013 at 11:04 am | Permalink

      Alex,

      Maybe introduce them to Doctor Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation? It’s a fascinating book, and very easily readable, all about animal sex. It might help them get into it, especially since it lacks photos.

  3. E.A. Blair
    Posted June 25, 2013 at 7:07 am | Permalink

    This is the ideal opportunity for some struggling grad student – carve out a niche for yourself by becoming the world’s first expert on the tapir penis. Apply for grants, spend half a lifetime observing and writing papers, and then comes the final payoff – get on the internet and send out e-mails selling a plan that, for a mere $19.95, promises every human male that you, too, can have a prehensile prick!

    • Grania Spingies
      Posted June 25, 2013 at 11:15 am | Permalink

      Having watched the video, I am not sure anyone wants one like that.

      If anything, it is a cautionary tale on how longer is not always better.

      My, that is a very patient and understanding Mrs Tapir. ;)

      • Marella
        Posted June 25, 2013 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

        That’s what I was thinking, the female tapir is extremely phlegmatic about it all. The amount of dirt that must have been on the end of it by the time it went in made me feel a little queasy though.

  4. TJR
    Posted June 25, 2013 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    In the words of Bill Bailey

    “Hats off to the Tapir”

  5. gravityfly
    Posted June 25, 2013 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    If “prehensile” means able to grasp or hold, I fail to see that ability here.

  6. Michael Fisher
    Posted June 25, 2013 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    A 4-minute video by Ze Frank:-

    True Facts about the Tapir

  7. chascpeterson
    Posted June 25, 2013 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    This variability alone suggests strongly it isn’t a pheromone

    No it doesn’t. There’s no reason to imagine that effective chemical signals need to be perceived as pleasant, or indeed be perceived consciously at all.

    (indeed, there are no known human pheromones)

    true nevertheless.

    • Posted June 25, 2013 at 11:39 am | Permalink

      The point is that the particular mutations in the receptor shared by many people (eg 70% of a New York sample) mean that the receptors *cannot detect* the pheromone, as shown by in vitro studies (not based on subjective perception). In other words, it is not an effective signal, so is very unlikely to be a pheromone.

  8. Larry Cook
    Posted June 25, 2013 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    I think it’s a good move for self-protection for you to share the video with us, thus explaining your search to any nosy body who is looking.

  9. Draken
    Posted June 25, 2013 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    Of course, after viewing this video youtube ‘suggests’ some other animal sex videos, which when watched will fill your suggestion list with animal genitalia for weeks to come.

  10. Erik Verbruggen
    Posted June 25, 2013 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    Nice video :-)

    The voice over is Dutch: the mother is explainging the children that this is how Tapirs get to have children :-)

  11. Marella
    Posted June 25, 2013 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    I assume you’ve all seen “True Facts About the Tapir” by Ze Frank on Youtube? I would post a link but I can’t stop them embedding. I do recommend it though. There are many more in the “True Facts” series, all very funny.


3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] As Matthew Cobb at Why Evolution is True discovered, this is only one entry in a whole genre of tapir sex videos and tapir penis photos. […]

  2. […] tapir penis is a terrifying thing […]

  3. […] Behold the tapir’s prehensile penis […]

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