Gynandromorphs and Cloacal Kisses

Faculty Bulldog Days is a week when Yale profs get a chance to see what their peers do in the classroom, and maybe even learn a thing or two. This year I learned a ton sitting in on Richard Prum’s Ornithology class. For example:

  • Any given bird’s egg can produce either a male chick or a female chick. In mammals, it’s the sperm that determines the sex of the offspring.

  • Gynandromorphs are rare occurrences where the left side of the animal is one sex and the right side is the other. The chicken pictured above is a gynandromorph.

  • Bird testes are 500 times bigger in summer than in winter

  • Most male birds don’t have a penis. Instead both males and females have openings called “cloacae” that are pressed against each other during copulation. This means a female who doesn’t want sex can just close her cloaca.

  • The birds that do have penises have spiral organs with grooves along the length that are channels for the semen instead of a closed tube.

  • Birds have a lymphatic erection system that takes just a 1/3 of a second to activate. Copulation itself only lasts a second or two.

  • A kiwi’s egg grows to 25% of the mother’s body weight.

Did I mention the lecture I attended was on reproductive anatomy and physiology? I am so ready for my next cocktail party! Of course, this wasn’t all I learned:

  • Prof Prum bans laptops in his class and while it was hard to know if it was this policy or the day’s topic, the fact is his students were quite attentive. After class he told me he’s never had a complaint about the policy since he implemented it two years ago.

  • He does a great job incorporating pictures–I need to do more of this. I bet his audio clips are terrific when he’s teaching bird songs.

  • It’s so obvious (and effective) when a teacher has a passion for his subject.

Last year at this time Faculty Bulldog Days was an experiment. It’s so nice to see it grow into a tradition!