Slipper Limpet, Crepidula Fornicata

This post is inspired by a poem from Isabel Galleymore which I looked at in a poetry class and fell in love with.  It’s part of her collection Significant Other which I’d highly recommend.  Whilst the poem is enjoyable by itself, knowing more about the slipper limpet heightens the pleasure and appreciation of Galleymore’s skill.

Whilst slipper limpets are found in the UK, they are a non native species that arrived from America in the 19th century.  The first live slipper limpets were found in Liverpool Bay and are likely to have hitched a ride on the back of oysters.  During the 19th century, eating oysters became fashionable in London and native stocks rapidly became depleted.  To meet demand, oysters were imported from America, along with the now invasive stowaway.

Slipper Limpets live under rocks in the intertidal zone and feed by filtering plankton from the water.  They have thin, flattened shells which has a little shelf and when flipped upside down, apparently look like a slipper hence the name.  The first half of the scientific name actually means slipper in Latin and whilst we’re thinking about the name, it’s also important to note they aren’t actually a limpet… They are instead a type of sea snail.

They live in groups of up to 12 with one stacked upon another, largest at the bottom and getting smaller as you go up the tower (or Galleymore’s “high-rise orgy“).  The base slipper limpet attaches herself to things like rocks, scallops, crabs and mussels and thus the slipper limpets live a sedentary life.  And it is always either a female or an empty shell, with the rest of the stack being male.  It is advantageous for females to be bigger than males so they can carry more eggs.  And they can lay between 10,000 and 200,000 eggs so they need plenty of space!

The male has a penis that can be as long as his body, and it needs to be; it has to extend round and under the female’s shell in order to reach her genital opening.  It is because they need to be so close that they attach to one another – imagine being stuck with your ex literally on your back until you die…

Slipper limpets are born male and will later change sex, something known as sequential hermaphrodism.  Recent research has shown that the change occurs as a result of physical contact with another male.  However, it’s not instant and doesn’t happen as a result of every contact.  The change itself takes about 60 days – or about two moon cycles – to change sex and during this time the penis shrinks and disappears and the female organs develop.

The more you learn about the slipper limpet, the more appropriate you think the scientific name is.  But whilst it would be fun to imagine an animal named for it’s sexual habits, fornicate unfortunately comes from the Latin word for arch – fornix – and refers to their arched shape.

Peak breeding occurs during May and June and most females spawn twice a year, after neap tides.  Egg capsules are brooded under the foot of the female, attached to the inside of her shell or her foot.  The young hatch as larvae after 3 to 4 weeks and will stay in larval form for about 4 to 5 weeks.  After this they will leave home.  In their early life they are able to move, slowly crawling to find a suitable site to set up home, but generally after about two years they are stuck wherever they are.  Hopefully having chosen the perfect spot, given they live up to 10 years.  If they settle alone, they will turn female and become the base slipper limpet.  Alternatively, they will join an existing chain and wait their turn.

Scientists have been looking at the Slipper Limpet to see if it has any medical benefits for us and hemocyanin – the same chemical that makes the blood of horseshoe crabs and octopuses blue – has been found in their blood and is effective in treating breast and bladder cancer.  Their tough fleshy food may also have uses for human medicine.  Collagen from it can be used in regenerative medicine, such as advanced wound care and bone and nerve repair.  Whilst collagen is found in virtually every living organism, the collagen from the slipper limpets is stable in the same range as human collagen and thus provides an alternative source – at present collagen from cows and pigs is used.

Returning to the poem, I am in awe of Galleymore’s ability to make us stop and think twice about this seemingly dull, drab, slightly gnarled looking creature.  Without her poem, I wouldn’t know about the slipper limpet and I certainly wouldn’t have had so many conversations about it.

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Bestiality: Resources

Below are the main resources I’ve used whilst considering bestiality.  There are some additional links within the posts themselves.

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Bestiality in fairy tales

If you’ve been following my blog recently, you will have noticed the bestiality series.  And you might well be thinking ok, well that is a topic that’s for other people, it’s nothing to do with me. But this overlooks bestiality in fairy tales, in mythology and in folklore.  Think beauty and the beast.  Think Leda and the swan.

“Legends about animal deities and their sexual congress with humans can be found in ancient cultures the world over – Sumarian, Indian, Chinese, Egyptian and Babylonian”
– Tatov

“Nearly every storytelling culture maps out dating practices with animal partners”
– Maria Tatov

“Mythologies throughout the world tell of intimate kinships that people have established with animals, whether as shapeshifters in the present or as ancestors in the remote past”
– Boria Sax

Starting with mythology from Ancient Greek, we find Zeus who took the form of an eagle to rape Ganymede.  He took the form of a swan to seduce the mortal woman Leda and the form of a bull to have sex with Europa.  Then there are the centaurs, which some people point to as the result of a Centaurus interbreeding with horses and hence the result of bestiality.

“There are several old tales of sexual unions between human beings and various animals producing composite creatures.”
– Sax

This theme of Gods turning into animals to have sex with humans is found elsewhere in the world including in the Roman empire and in Hinduism where sex with an animal was thought to be sex with a god incarnated in the form of an animal.  An Indonesian myth tells of a princess marrying a dog and giving birth to a son who would become an ancestor of a particular tribe.

In an Italian folktale – the King’s Pig – a cursed man is turned into a pig who killed his first two wives who were disgusted by him.  His third wife was quite satisfied by having sex with a pig.  In a Greek folktale – the golden crab – the beautiful princess marries a crab and wants no one else.

These two examples show that bestiality isn’t always the route to a restoration of humanity, a structure we are more familiar with.  Such as in the case of a Bantu story where a crocodile turns back into a human when a maiden licks it’s face.

The latter will likely seem familiar to many readers as it fits the form of an animal bride/groom tale.  A pattern where a bride has no choice but to marry an animal, often urged on by her father.  She suffers in that marriage although there are some good moments.  Her ordeal is rewarded by riches and the animal returns to being a man.  Sometimes the gender roles are reversed but often the spell breaks when the animal proves their human worth or is loved, generally by a virgin.  And yes, this is literally the plot of beauty and the beast.  That is how interwoven into our lives, bestiality is.

In early versions of little red riding hood, the girl saves herself from being eaten by engaging in bestiality, something that is now generally lost from today’s versions.

There are also the selkie style stories where a man steals the animal’s feathers or skin in order to trick her into marriage.  In the end, she tends to find her feathers or skin and is able to return to her animal form and escapes the husband.

That these stories cross cultures and time, suggests a desire to question or interrogate something that is universal.  That may be a fear of burgeoning sexuality, concerns about forced marriages or an attempt to understand the line between man and beast.  Another argument is that it’s about understanding other humans, about building empathy and showing the flares inherent in judging someone based on their appearance.  Whatever it is, there is something in these stories of sex between human and animal that continues to appeal to us today.

Bestiality and the line between man and beast

How we define humans and other animals, and the importance of that dividing line, is crucial to understanding bestiality as a transgression of the natural order.  So often this dividing line is one that demarcates a hierarchy, with humans at the top.

Even in religions where animals are valued more than in Christianity, humans tend to be on top.  Hindus believe in reincarnation and believe that animals and humans both have souls.  Humans can be reborn as an animal and vice versa but humans are considered “to be the apex of what life should be” (DeMello) and hence are superior.  Buddhists also have the idea of karma, and consider that humans and animals both have potential to reach enlightenment but again being reborn as an animal is seen as negative.

Human exceptionalism is the belief that humans are unique in the animal world but it is not the only way to approach the world.  The human animal divide is “neither universally found nor universally agreed upon” (DeMello).  It is a social construction, dependent upon time and place.

For example, in some Native American traditions, humans, animals and plants are created together.  In this context, humans are part of the natural world, not apart.  A number of creation myths have animal creators giving birth to humans and animals and this clearly influences how we see, and treat, animals.  Notably, some animals were seen as superior to humans and there wasn’t a concept of animals as private property.

The divide between, and differential values of, human and animal likely arose with the domestication of animals.  For hunter gatherer societies, the collection of plants and hunting of animals involves an intimate interaction with nature.  On the other hand, a society that’s based around producing food involves control of, and intervention with, nature.  We can’t domesticate animals for our own use unless we create some sort of a divide.  The rise of agriculture meant a new concept of animals and humans, one where humans transcend and control.  Animals no longer exist in the same world as humans, they belong to nature which humans have been able to ‘overcome’.

The rise of Christianity also influenced this divide.  There is a concept called the great chain of being which divides beings into physical and spiritual, those who have souls or not.  Within this hierarchy, humans are uniquely placed in that they are physical and spiritual, we are the only beings with souls and hence are closer to god than animals are.  The great chain of being set out the natural order of things and if it is broken, there would be disastrous consequences, all that is secure would falter.

“God had created an orderly nature with clear boundaries between humans and beasts.  Satan, and the buggerers who served him, were challenging the boundaries and threatening to reduce everything to confusion.”
– John Murrin

As an aside, not all humans are equal within the chain, some are less human – women, children, lower classes – and in many cases were treated as animals.

At particular points in history, such as when nature seemed to be getting too close to man, it wasn’t enough to construct this divide, it had to be proven and one way was to dominate animals.  This meant that owning and controlling animals was a part of what it meant to be humans.  This is reinforced because to own and control animals, you need to divide yourself from them:

“by drawing a sharp dividing line between human and non human, a vast gap is created between subject (the free acting human agent) and object (the passive acted-upon thing)… we perceive ourselves as belonging to a totally different order: the realm of culture, while all other beings and inanimate things are only nature.”
– Barbara Noske

Within this mindset, humans having sex with animals tested the boundaries between humans and animals and gods.  It could lead to half man half beast creatures which would be placeless in the chain.  It would also reduce man to the level of animal and generally lead to chaos and confusion.

Knowing this helps us to understand the almost instinctive, strong reactions that bestiality invokes.  Sex with animals degrades humans, and humanity, and undermines the “crucial understanding that human beings are unique, special, and of the highest moral worth in the known universe… [it] is an affront to humankind’s inestimable importance and intrinsic moral worth” (Wesley J Smith)

Today we find the divide used, and reinforced, in how we talk about animals, turning them into objects by labelling them ‘breeding stock’, ‘meat’ and so on:

“when we are determined to do violence to an animal, we must first turn the victim into a despicable “thing” that deserves such treatment”
– Noske

Interestingly, this may make it easier for people to carry out acts of bestiality, seeing the animal as an object or a possession rather than a living creature with a soul.

We cannot understand behaviours and attitudes outside of the culture in which they exist and this is so true of bestiality.

Bestiality and Masculinity

One thing I have found in all my research into bestiality is that it is, predominantly, a male activity.  There are women who do it, but over and over again, the majority of what I’ve read is talking about men.  Some of this may be down to the historical importance of penetration when it came to trials but I think it goes beyond that.

Looking back in history, between 1635 and 1778, Sweden executed about 700 people for bestiality, mostly adolescent boys and young men.  At the same time, under the UK laws, penetration was necessary and hence those people prosecuted were almost always men.  There was at least one exception and that was a woman and her dog who were hanged in 1679.  Women were generally accused in a different way, through witchcraft trials.  English women on trial for witchcraft would often confess to having sex with the devil, who frequently took an animal form.

“Bestiality discredited men in the way that witchcraft discredited women”
– John Murrin

However, unlike bestiality which is a specific act and a one off incident, witchcraft tended to be vague.  Bestiality vs witchcraft is a topic that I want to look into more in the future.

At certain points in British history, abuse of an animal was considered to be a violation of the man’s property, as was the case when women were abused by men other than their husband.

When I was looking at reasons why people have sex with animals, or how they explain their actions, I focused mostly on the modern situation.  Historically, Arab men have had sex with goats, mares, sheep, sows, asses and cooperative camels.  It was believed that sex with an animal increased virility, cured disease and made their penis bigger – the latter is a belief that I’ve found replicated in different cultures.  What won’t men do for a bigger dick?

“Sex between humans and nonhuman animals remains a typically male activity”
– Christine Overall

There are also parts of the world where sex with animals has been, and still is, a male rite of passage.  Whether that’s penetrating a donkey, or sticking your penis into a pig’s mouth

Some cultures also view young men having sex with animals as a part of learning about sex and sexuality.  It is also a way of demonstrating man’s control and domination over nature.

We have to consider this topic within the context of the patriarchal society we live in, where women are still so often considered objects, there for the amusement of men.

“The privileged expectation in male dominant societies [is] that men shall have sexual access to the bodies of women as a right”
– Sheila Jeffreys

This attitude around the right to sex, sex entitlement, certainly has a role to play and as we saw in the justifications section of this series, some people have sex with animals because they can’t have sex with women.

“Animal sexual assault is the product of a masculinity that sees women, animals and nature as objects that can be controlled, manipulated and exploited.”
– Pier Beirne

We see this when we look at male sexist language.  Calling women bitches, birds, chicks, foxy, fresh meat etc creates emotional distance between man and ‘prey’, making women less than and hence easier to abuse without guilt.  If this is the case, then surely within this construct, it’s not much of a stretch to abuse animals.

As I said at the start, women do engage in bestiality and I don’t want to portray this as a purely masculine behaviour but it is something to keep in mind in this conversation.

Bestiality: the arguments against

Ok, so we’ve now looked at the history of bestiality, the ways people explain or justify it and the consequences of it.  Now we’re going to look at it from the other side of the fence, the reasons why people disagree with bestiality.

When I’ve mentioned this blog series to people their initial reaction has been that it’s clearly wrong, but when pressed, it’s hard to find reasons for this instinctive pushback.  There’s the issue of consent and pain but the repulsion doesn’t seem to be proportionate to this.  Having looking into the topic, I feel that it is part, probably a very big part, down to the social conditioning and the history of living in a culture heavily influenced by Christianity.

I challenged the idea about consent in a previous post and I hope that’s got people thinking, wherever they land on it.  Another mind exercise is to think about horse riding, a very socially acceptable activity, but some people get sexual pleasure from it.  If you think that’s ok, why is it different from sex acts with animals?

Whilst we’re hanging out in the grey area, I also think there’s a major difference between sex with a large animal vs a small one (think horse vs hamster), and whether physical restraint or force is involved to keep the animal still.  The same feels to be true for people approach the act as reciprocal and who treat the animal as if they are in a loving relationship, caring and looking after it, vs those people who force their sexual urges onto or into animals.

But now, let’s move out of the grey zone and see what arguments people have against bestiality.

“all acts of bestiality are immoral because human relations to domesticated animals is one of master to slave.  Domesticated animals who are subject to bestiality are neither free to choose or able to act on their own interest… Domesticated animals have been bred to allow human control.”
– Kamran Nayeri

A lot of animal sex seems to involve domesticated animals which are, by definition under our control, often eager to please us and thus it’s a relationship of actual or potential coercion.  The relationship is one that’s already a major power imbalance, they are dependant on us for food, for shelter and so on.  Within that relationship, is engaging in a sex act without kicking up a fuss enough to say that the animal is consenting?

Additionally, not all animals are “equipped to resist human sexual advances in any meaningful way owing to their docile and often human bred natures” (Piers Beirne).

“That zoophilic relationships can be mutual and that animals can develop strong affections for people, including a sexual component, is not disputed.  It does not appear to be difficult for some animals to enter into an intimate relationship with a person, and it can be quite easy to sexually arouse and satisfy a male animal… However, in general, an animal only does this if it is used to such behaviour, that is, it has been trained to perform this behaviour.”
– Gierie Bolliger and Antoine F Goetschel

This quote suggests a self-perpetuating loop; you have sex with the animal, the animal sees it’s made you happy and then next time is more on board with it because it’s associated with human praise.

We can’t discuss bestiality without considering the harm to the animal.  Beirne argues that bestiality should be understood as interspecies sexual assault, that human animal sex almost always involves coercion.  That the nature of bestiality can cause animals pain and even death and “animals are unable either to communicate consent to us in a form we can readily understand or to speak out about their abuse.”

We’ve already seen that it has health implications for humans but inevitably it also has health impacts on the animals.  Zoonotic diseases pass from animal to human but also the other way round.

“A study of non-accidental injury in small animals in the UK… identified 6% of the 448 reported cases as being sexual in nature.”
– H M C Munro and M V Thursfield

The study cases included 21 dogs and 5 cats and some injuries were extreme, even fatal.  There was bruising and internal bleeding.  And whilst we can detect physical harm and abusive practices, psychological suffering and a sense of violation is harder to identify and measure.

Another big concern is that studies show people who rape animals are more likely to rape people.  In ‘Arrest and Prosecution of Animal Sex Abuse Offenders in the US, 1975-2015’ M Jenny Edwards looked at 456 arrests for bestiality related incidents:

“The results suggest that animal sex offending may be linked to other criminal behaviour, and involves a spectrum of sexual acts, including coercive, violent, and non-violent penetration; solicitation for sex with an animal; and deviant behaviour including torture and necrophilia.”

31.6% of the offenders in the study had also committed sexual offences against children and adults.  52.9% had a prior or subsequent criminal record involving human sexual abuse, animal abuse, interpersonal violence, substances or property offences.

Bestiality can play a role in domestic abuse; the perpetrator will often sexually abuse the family pet, or force the woman to have sex with it as an act of humiliation; in World War Two, Klaus Barbie forced female prisoners to perform sex acts with animals as a way of degrading them.

There is a strong masculinity aspect to bestiality and the limited statistics we have show it’s predominantly men who engage in it and in parts of the world it’s a male rite of passage.  I know I’ve been saying this a lot, but I’m going to look at that in another post…  There is a lot more to bestiality than you’d think…!

Traditionally, religion has been used to control social behaviour and managed human activity.  In England we have a long history of Christianity which still infiltrates society today.  From this point of view, the 3 religious reasons why bestiality has been condemned are that:

  1. It ruptures the natural, God given order of the universe
  2. It violates the procreative intent of sex
  3. It produces monstrous offspring that are the work of the devil

Related, bans on bestiality have been justified because they protect society from the breakdown of marriages and family life, they protect against falling population rates and they mean we don’t run the risk of the deterioration of human dignity.  Sex with animals is an offence to our status as humans and will disrupt the natural order of the world.  It crosses a strict boundary between man and beast and this line is incredibly important to some societies.  Historically it was the violation of this line that was the concern and the reason for the laws.

I will be considering the boundary between humans and other animals in a separate post as it’s another huge topic.

We can learn a lot about bestiality by looking at the more modern motivation for laws.  In the UK, the animal’s inability to consent is centred whereas in Switzerland it’s the dignity of the animal that’s at the forefront.  In Denmark, the ban on bestiality was driven by a desire to curb bestiality porn and bestiality tourism.

When looking at the laws in the US, we can see that motivations for the laws have moved from the moral outrage of history towards animal cruelty and:

“California and Oregon have gone beyond this by calling the act “sexual assault of an animal.” This change may reflect these states’ assessment that animals are incapable of consenting to such acts. In some states, offenders may be subject to sexual assault registry laws.”
Rebecca F.Wisch

To add another layer to the bestiality debate, next time I’ll be looking at the role of animal sex in folklore and mythology.  Regardless of what you think and feel about bestiality, I hope you’ve come to realise that there is merit in unpicking and interrogating the topic.

Bestiality: the consequences

Note, this is the consequences for the humans involved. The consequences for animals will be covered when I look at arguments against bestiality.

Bestiality has often been met with severe penalties which “both reflect and seek to impose particular conceptions of humanity and animality” (Rebecca Cassidy).

In many parts of the world, bestiality is illegal and has historically resulted in execution for both human and animal.  Whilst you may not get the death penalty today, jail time is still a very real consequence for people found to be engaging in bestiality.  For those who love their animals, the risk of the animal being put down is very real and painful.

But it’s not just the legal side of things, there is the impact of living in a society which holds this behaviour as taboo.  There is the isolation, loneliness, depression and even suicide which can arise as a result of feeling attraction to animals or because it’s become publicly known.

Being “outed” can lead to the loss of friends, family, jobs as well as being ostracised by your community.  All of this clearly has a massive impact on your quality of life and ability to lead a “normal” life.

Being exposed seems to be a very real concern, and obviously ensuring law enforcement doesn’t find out would be important.  The online forum had a very detailed thread about protecting yourself.  There was advice about how to cover your tracks on the internet, how to protect yourself in the act – watch out for cameras, close the curtains, lock the door.  Never engage in sex on someone else’s property or with someone else’s animal.  With all of this, it was stressed that zoosex is not an easy way out of engaging in human society, it’s a much harder way to live.

Other risks include risks to the health of the human; allergies to non-human sperm which can even lead to anaphylaxis, diseases passed from animal to human, the physical dangers involved in kicking hooves and so on.

According to the Journal of Biological and Medical Sciences, the three most dangerous diseases passed through sexual contact with animals are:

  • Leptospirosis: Any contact with the sexual organs of dogs, cattle, pigs, horses and sheep can transmit this bacterial disease to humans. Leptospirosis can cause Meningitis which leads to death in about 10% of the cases.
  • Echinococcosis: Parasitic worms from the feaces of dogs, cats, and sheep can cause this disease. The worms cause cysts in lungs, liver, brain, spleen, heart, and kidneys. If not treated, this disease can be fatal.
  • Rabies: One of the most severe of zoonoses, rabies is transmitted from the saliva of cats, dogs and horses. This is a viral infection which affects the central nervous system and is almost always fatal if not treated soon after the exposure.

Further there are risks for urological diseases, penile cancer and venereal diseases.  Physical injuries can arise as a result of sex organs that are just not designed to go together.  In 2005, Kenneth Pinyan actually died as a result of injuries received during sex with a horse.

This really does beg the question, why?  Why do people have sex with animals when there are such real and awful consequences? I can only that in at least some cases, it must be a powerful drive and attraction.  There will of course be some people who enjoy domination and who relish inflicting cruelty but this isn’t the only driver.

The next post I think will be looking at the case against sex with animals.