Warning: This post is about science writing! It's also about reproductive habits of worms! I think you may like it, but if you are offended by these things...you've been warned.
Why care about hermaphroditic worms? It can show you what happens when both sexes are in one body in a species. (Hint: it's not pretty.) I'm writing about it because it's the topic of an article written by a science writer who spoke to my graduate science-medical writing class.
Susan Milius is a writer at Science News. Susan is a hilarious and engaging speaker, besides being a great writer. One of the pieces she talked briefly about hermaphroditic worms who engage in "penis fencing" to determine which will become impregnated.
I wanted to repeat that in case you missed it the first time.
If I had a phrase like that, I would want to use it. (In fact, I just did. Twice.) But in Susan's 2006 article Battle of the hermaphrodites: sexes clash even when sharing the same body, she only used it once (that I counted). I imagine that must have been a heroic display of self-control.
These hermaphroditic worms are both male and female in one body, and they can both fertilize another worm and receive sperm for fertilizing eggs within their own body. But before you ask if one can fertilize itself, check out this description of Pseudobiceros bedfordi (flatworms) coupling from Susan's article:
Horrifying. And the penis fencing (that's three) is almost more horrifying. This example was observed in the Pseudoceros bifurcus marine worm.
I'm wrapping up now so I don't get carried away about the sciencey stuff for another 500 words. You can read Susan's article if, like me, you're intrigued by this research.
I'm just glad I'm not a hermpahroditic worm. No, thanks!
Would you show restraint or go wild in your article if you were handed a phrase like "penis fencing" on a silver platter?
And that's 4 for me. I wanted to put it in the title, but I showed some restraint.