Animal masturbation

“Modern scientists agree: virtually all the higher animals – including parakeets and pigeons – are occasionally involved with their own genitalia.”
– Mels Van Driel

Lions, primates, bats, walruses, deer, zebra, sheep, warthogs, hyenas, whales, dophins, cats and dogs are just some of the animals that are known to masturbate.  They may use their flippers, their tails, their feet or their mouth.  They rub their nipples, grab their genitals, rub against inanimate objects and essentially employ all the methods than humans do.

Female ferrets use smooth stones and penguins literally get their rocks off on rocks.  Female porcupines are quite creative – they grab a stick between their front paws then ride it like a broom.  As they drag the stick around with them the jolting and vibrating stimulates them.

Male bats, male walruses and female hyenas engage in auto-fellatio – female hyenas have a phallus-esque clitoris.  Orangutans make use of twigs and leaves whilst tortoises bang their penis against hard objects.

Deer rub their antlers on the ground and can take as little as 15 seconds to satisfy themselves.  Cetaceans rub themselves against the ocean floor.

Male elephants suck on their penis with their trunk and females nibble the nipples between their front legs whilst striking their vulva with their tail.

Male marine iguanas who don’t have much chance of mating – or who may start mating with a female but are likely to get kicked off by another male before they’ve copulated – are known to masturbate whenever a female goes by.  It’s thought that this is because by masturbating they speed up the time it takes to ejaculate and thus, when they do get a chance with a girl, they can do the deed very quickly, before they get kicked off.

Other theories about why animals masturbate include mismatched sex ratios within a population, stress relief, being lower down the rank and hence not having the chance to have sex and the fresh ejaculate theory.  The latter is the idea that “masturbating clears out the old sperm faster and makes room for newer, healthier sperm.  Healthier sperm equals healthier babies” (Verdolin).

And of course, animals may masturbate because they find it pleasurable.

“While scientists debate the evolutionary reason for masturbation, there’s no doubt that humans are not alone in their self-pleasure from time to time.”
— Clara Moskowitz, LiveScience Senior Writer

With animals that are similar to us, it can be easy to imagine how they have stimulate themselves but you may be wondering about birds.  I was.  Most birds have a cloaca – an opening used for sex and for expelling waste – and male birds will bend their tails under an object – such as a toy – and rub their cloaca against it.  Females also rub their cloaca against an object but instead lift their tail and back up onto the item in question.

There isn’t much research into masturbation in the animal kingdom at this point so much of this is based on observations, both in the wild and in zoos where obviously there is no guarantee that the behaviour is natural.  Species in which studies have been carried out include primates, domestic animals such as horses and ground squirrels.

The ground squirrels study was suggested that male masturbation may act as a form of genital grooming.  As saliva has antibacterial properties, masturbation may reduce their risk of catching an STD.  It may also clean the reproductive tracts.  But this is clearly an area that requires a lot more research!

Whilst this blog post is entirely a bit of fun and a way to discuss masturbation in a less taboo way, it has a second purpose.  That is to dispel all those myths that we should only have sex to procreate because it’s what’s natural.  If you’ve read any of my animal and sex posts, you’ll know that sex in the animal kingdom is diverse, interesting and uninhibited.  Sex has evolved to be pleasurable for many species (although not all it must be added) in order for the species to continue and why wouldn’t we – humans and other animals – engage in something that makes us feel good?

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Love is in the air!

Spring is coming and soon love will be in the air!  Whether it’s the pheromones of animals or the pollen of plants, the air around us is positively brimming with the scent of reproduction.

Winged creatures like butterflies often engage in courtship flights, dancing around each other as part of a pre-copulation ritual.  The courtship ritual of the bald eagle involves locking talons and tumbling toward earth…  And then there are insects which engage in aerobatic sex, mid air, such as flies and dragonflies.

When it comes to humans (and other animals) we all have a unique smell, a chemical signature that we refer to as pheromones.  They play a role in who we are attracted to which I think is fairly well known, but also, probably lesser known, is that they also help us to identify people we are related to – useful if you want to avoid sleeping with your secret cousin that no one knew about… Having different genetic make up means healthier children and less inbreeding which is why we’ve evolved to detect this.  Couples which are more genetically similar have fewer orgasms which sounds pretty rubbish but things go one step further and couples who are more genetically alike also have a higher rate of cheating…  Basically, evolution is doing everything it can to reduce the chance of inbreeding.

Pheromones are also used to help a guy to detect where in her menstrual cycle a woman is and his body releases testosterone according to ovulation status.

However, the use of hormonal contraception appears to be changing how humans react to these chemical signatures.  When taking birth control pills, the natural ability to distinguish between males who are genetically alike and genetically different is disrupted and instead, women are attracted to the males who are most similar.  Verdolin gives a great example:

“I was discussing this with my friend Stacey, who exclaimed, “That must be why I couldn’t stand the smell of my ex-husband!”  She went on to explain that when she met her first husband she had been taking birth control pills.  Several years into their marriage, after she discontinued the pill, not only was she unable to get pregnant, but she no longer cared for the smell of her husband.”

Aside: pheromones are found in underarm hair and public hair so maybe go au naturale if you’re seeking a partner?

Animals use pheromones to communicate with each other, to mark their territory and to induce aggression.  They are also used in parental bonding, to keep group behaviour in check and of course to attract mates – some creatures can even smell out virgins.  They are also used to mark your mate in order to keep away other potential mates.  Squirrels secrete pheromones onto their partners onto their partner to tell other males that she’s taken.  Queen bees use pheromones to control hive behaviour and stop workers from reproducing.  Plants use pheromones to attract pollinators, for example a kind of orchid can mimic bee pheromones to pollinate them.

Male lemmings can not only sniff out a female who’s ready to mate, but they can also distinguish between those who have mated already and those who have not.

“From beetles to bees and lizards, females do give off a different scent if they have already mated or if they are ready to mate.”
– Verdolin

A large number of male creatures will include anti-aphrodisiac pheromones in their bodily secretions so that the female they are mating will have less interest in sex.  The pheromones can also make her less attractive to other males.

What of other ways that love is in the air?  Well, plants can reproduce in a couple of ways, both involving the air; insect pollination and wind pollination.  The latter means that large amounts of pollen are released to the breeze in the hope that they find another plant to fertilise.  Whilst this does mean hayfever for many of us, it’s nice to think that it’s all in the aid of making baby trees and flowers!

Suggested reading:

Squirrel

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“Preparing for the inevitable change of the future but in a lighthearted sort of way.”
Animal Allies

Before I jump into my discussion of the squirrel, I wanted to touch on Jessica’s description (above).  This feels to me like a lighter version of the wheel of fortune.  The inevitable, ever changing cycles but dealing with them with less seriousness.  A sort of dark humour approach to life.

Perhaps the main thing you’ll know about squirrels is their hording tendencies.  They hide food away, ready for harder times and this card reminds us to plan and prepare and put something aside for the future.  There is also a reminder here about remembering where you’ve put things… I’m sure we’ve all put things in safe places only to forget where they are… Well squirrels do the same…  Only when they forget where they’ve stashed their nuts, they inadvertently help out the forest by letting a tree have a chance at life.  They are great at planning and organising but not so good at the follow through…

Perhaps it is not just literal resources that you need to preserve, perhaps it’s emotional and physical “spoons”.  Or perhaps this squirrel is suggesting you need to extend this thrifty tendency to your pennies.  Of course, conversely, you might be hoarding things, holding onto things you no longer need, not letting go or holding onto things for reasons you’ve long since forgotten.

Whilst they don’t recall all the locations of their food caches, they do have very good spatial memory – does this chime with you in any way?  I’m not sure how it would but I wanted to include it just in case…  Squirrels, like crows, use deceptive behaviour if they think that anyone is watching them bury their nuts.  This feels very seven of swords… (scroll to the end of the post).

The squirrel’s way of life is driven by the changing seasons so perhaps what you do needs to change accordingly. If you look back at the bear from the wild unknown, you’ll find an interesting note about flowing with the seasons and adapting behaviour and expectations accordingly.

As well as their chattering vocalisation, grey squirrels communicate with body language which is a good reminder that most of human communication is non verbal.  Most of the behaviour we see such as chasing and chattering is actually territorial fighting.  Is your body language aligned with your words and are other peoples words in line with their body language?  How are you sparring with those around you?  What ‘territory’ matters to you?

Whilst the squirrel pictured on the animal allies card is a grey squirrel, you don’t have to be talking about the species long before the topic of red squirrels comes up.  Where red squirrels have inhabited Britain for about 10,000 years, greys were released in the UK in the 19th century.  Originally from North America, they were imported and released into parklands as amusing novelties but they rapidly became common and now live in most of the country,having replaced the native reds.  As they started to spread, they were welcomed as ‘sociable, easily tamed animal[s]’ (Manchester Guardian, 1912) but by 1932, it was illegal to release a grey squirrel in Britain.  This change in attitudes may be a reminder that fashions change, that attitudes change and that we are just one part of an ever-changing world.  What is in today may be out tomorrow, what is bothering you now, may blow over by next week.

Unfortunately for the greys, the passion that some people have for the reds turns into a hatred of the greys. This can feel a bit like there are two gangs and you have to join one side or the other… Another way of viewing it is through the lens of immigration and prejudice against non native creatures.  The issue is very divisive and it may be worth reflecting on your own life – are you facing a similar situation over a different issue? Are you stubbornly sticking to your side without hearing the other side out?  Things in life are rarely black and white…

But back to the grey squirrels, partly as they are more common in the UK and partly because the animal allies card pictures one.  They are diurnal (active during the day) and spend their time foraging in trees (preferring deciduous forests where reds prefer evergreen forests) and on the ground.  The grey squirrel is unusual in that it can climb down a tree head first suggesting that you need to take a heads on approach yourself.

Whilst they do live up to the stereotype of eating nuts, they also eat bulbs, tree shoots, fungi and even birds eggs and baby birds.. This probably doesn’t help them to negate the perception of grey squirrels as rats with tails…

As well as being considered an arch nemesis of the red squirrel, greys are thought of as pests, especially in young forests as they like to strip the bark of saplings.  Gardeners often cast them in the role of nuisance, trouble maker as well.

Grey squirrels are carriers of a squirrel disease that affects reds significantly more than greys and this is one of the reasons why the red population has decreased since the greys were introduced.  This puts me in mind of those toxic people in your life, the vampiric friends who suck the life out of you but don’t seem to notice or be fazed.

But the squirrel card isn’t bad news, I happen to love them and think they can be rather entertaining and at times elegant to watch.  A beautiful aspect of the grey squirrel is it’s scientific name – Sciurus carolinensis – with sciurus translating as shadow tail which I find very evocative.  According to Wikipedia, it alludes to the squirrel sitting in the shadow of its tail!  And talking of tails, allegedly, of all the animals in eden, the squirrel was the most shocked when Adam and Eve ate the apple and hid behind his tail.  His reaction was seen as honourable and thus the squirrel was granted a bushy tail.

In North American Indians mythology, squirrels apparently tend to be noisy, aggressive gossips who cause trouble.  That said, they can also be great examples of preparedness and messengers who bring warnings.  I feel like we’re seeing a lot of polarisation with the squirrel – the battle of red and grey, of forest helper and gardeners nemesis, the aggressive gossip who can also bring helpful warnings.  It feels to me that this is a card that wants you to think about extremes.  Most behaviours, attitudes etc can be harmful when taken to extremes.

This idea of contrariness is echoed in European beliefs where, despite the squirrel being seen as a pest, it was considered unlucky to kill one and somehow it was also thought that burning a squirrel on a bonfire was supposed to drive away vermin.

Another appearance of squirrels in mythology can be found in norse cultures.  The squirrel Ratatoskr lives in the world tree and carries news and gossip between the different inhabitants of the tree.  This echoes the north American idea of the squirrel as messenger.  They can scurry from branch to branch, chattering away to different animals who live in the forest and thus they are natural messengers although it seems, in folklore, that they carry both mundane and more important warnings.  As squirrels can climb and climb, they can eventually reach the heavens and thus they carry mundane and spiritual messages.  It is down to us to separate the wheat from the chaff.