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10 Interesting Facts About Sperm

Can you name another cell that's been played in a movie by Woody Allen?

Sperm may be sort of funny looking --  like tadpoles in a panic -- but it's a lot more complex and interesting than one might imagine. No other cell (to my knowledge) has been  played by Woody Allen, ridden  by Zoidberg on a Fantastic Voyage-type episode of Futurama or honored in a memorable movie musical by Monty Python. But how much do you know about these little wigglers on which the survival of your species depends? Well, you’re about to learn a little more.


1. Of course he did

Sperm was first discovered in 1677 by a Dutch microscope maker who used one thing of his own making to examine something else of his own making.  LiveScience writes that Antony van Leeuwenhoek reported looking under a microscope and seeing tiny “animalcules” (an archaic term for tiny animals) in a sample of his own semen…semen, he made sure to note, which was an excess from actual sex and not just masturbation. 


2. How sweet it isn’t 

In a piece called Semen Physiology Anaya Mandal on News-Medical Net says that due to fructose that gets in the mix, semen “tastes slightly sweet.” Far be it for me to argue with a doctor but lemme just say there is a reason a company called Sweet Release went to the trouble of creating  a product meant to make semen taste like apple pie: because it doesn’t already taste a thing like apple pie or anything else you’ll find for sale in a bakery. Dr. Mandal does say that the taste of semen can change according to a man’s diet and here you can see a  BBC video of a taste test the esteemed news outlet did wherein men switched their diets to see if their wives could taste a difference.


This would come in handy for the female of a species of Ulidid fly,  Euxesta bilimeki, which not only expels sperm after mating: they eat it.  Science Daily reports on a study from the Instituto de Ecologia in Mexico reported on in the journal Behavior Ecology and Social Biology: 100% of the female flies expelled ejaculate after mating and 25% of those had no sperm left after this expulsion. The theory is that this allows females to choose which males they actually want to father their progeny since it seems they’re able to choose how much sperm to expel, all or just some. (Interestingly, the longer courtship the more likely she is to give all his sperm the heave-ho, leading researchers to think the females in these cases just give in to his advances rather than having to keep rejecting him and then just making sure he’s not the father of her fly babies.)


After experiments in which female flies were given varying diets to see if there was some nutritional reason they were eating the ejaculate, researchers think the reason might be because it provides fluids, since this breed of flies live in very arid areas. Maybe it just tastes like apple pie.


3. Little sneakers

Another way of taste-testing sperm, as a Korean diner discovered to the world’s horror, is by eating squid that is parboiled and undercooked. The squid sperm that tried to inseminate a woman’s mouth was an Internet sensation not long ago. How such a thing could happen is explained by  squid expert Danna Staaf on the above link to io9, but it starts with the fact that the sperm delivery system of the squid is very different from that of humans. In several species, including squid, butterflies, scorpions, octopi and others, sperm doesn’t travel in semen but in spermatophores or sperm packets; kind of needle-like vessels that are deposited in the female reproductive tract. Staaf calls this squiddy structure “definitely the world’s most complicated sperm,” in this video explaining exactly how spermatophores work.

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