March 19, 2010

Pro-Choice Pipefish

If you think that elective abortion is a recourse available to only godless females of the human species to terminate unwanted pregnancies, then you are mistaken. The Gulf pipefish, seen in the shallow waters from Florida to Brazil, routinely abort fetuses that they'd prefer not to carry to full term. And, it's not the female of the species that cares about choice, but the male. Naturally, because it's the male pipefish which becomes pregnant, not the female which enjoys the privilege of pleasure without pain!

The Gulf pipefish could be the envy of Bollywood heroes. Unlike in most other species, it's the female pipefish that fawns on the male. From courtship through the flaunting of her charms in a mating dance — how perfectly S-shaped her body can be or how big is her ovipostor, the organ that the female uses to lay her eggs, for example — to the aggressive pursuit of a hesitant male, it's the female that takes the lead while the male acts coy. The male is very selective and has clear preference for the kind of female that he would like to mate with: bigger is better. More eggs to fertilize, the logic goes.


A pregnant male pipefish with almost ripened
eggs. Can even see eyes in the eggs.

If the female is attractive enough, the male gets laid — literally! She deposits her eggs into a pouch on his chest, which he then feritilizes and carries the pipefish fetuses to full term. With a caveat, though. You see, the pipefish is not monogamous. When so many attractive females are competing for his pouch, how can he resist? Save for his preferred partner, however, the male's tenancy policy on his pouch is strictly "lease and terminate at will"!

No assistance from Planned Parenthood here, but the male pipefish seems to be self-sufficient as far as elective abortion is concerned.Scientists do not know for sure how the pipefish selectively abort the fetuses that they don't want, but a couple of possibilities have been put forth. Apparently, the pregnant male is capable of draining or withholding the nutrients from the unwanted fetuses.

The scientists are not sure about exactly what the evolutionary advantage from male pregnancy that occur among pipefish and other species could be. Whatever may be the evolutionary advantage, I think the pipefish have a huge habitat advantage over the humans. They don't live in Utah, where a recent legislation has made "self-abortion" a crime. With no god and his henchmen on earth, the pipefish community is safe from interference in their natural reproductive rights. And, that could be an evolutionary advantage, too!

3 comments :
  1. Unlike in most other species, it's the female pipefish that fawns on the male. From courtship through the flaunting of her charms in a mating dance — how perfectly S-shaped her body can be or how big is her ovipostor, the organ that the female uses to lay her eggs, for example — to the aggressive pursuit of a hesitant male, it's the female that takes the lead while the male acts coy.

    Not very different from humans wouldn't you think?
    Very interesting piece.

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  2. Doesn't the fact that it is the male that becomes "pregnant" make it the female, by definition?

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  3. Suraj:
    Here's the biological definition of male and female from Wikipedia:
    By convention, where one type of gamete cell (for sexual reproduction) is physically larger than the other, it is associated with female sex. Thus an individual that produces exclusively large gametes (ova in humans) is said to be female, and one that produces exclusively small gametes (spermatozoa in humans) is said to be male.

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