Under The Sea, Sex Is Slimy Business

Dr. Ellen Prager was on Fresh Air with Terry Gross today talking about her awesome new book “Sex, Drugs, and Sea Slime – The Oceans Oddest Creatures and Why They Matter”. Ellen is a scientist, science communicator and author of a series of excellent fiction and non-fiction books about the ocean.  Her new book is about the bizarre creatures (and their odd habits) that we love to highlight here at SeaMonster.

When viewed from a quiet beach, the ocean, with its rolling waves and vast expanse, can seem calm, even serene. But hidden beneath the sea’s waves are a staggering abundance and variety of active creatures, engaged in the never-ending struggles of life—to reproduce, to eat, and to avoid being eaten.  With Sex, Drugs, and Sea Slime, marine scientist Ellen Prager takes us deep into the sea to introduce an astonishing cast of fascinating and bizarre creatures that make the salty depths their home. From the tiny but voracious arrow worms whose rapacious ways may lead to death by overeating, to the lobsters that battle rivals or seduce mates with their urine, to the sea’s that make the salty depths their home. And while these animals make for some jaw-dropping stories—witness the sea cucumber, which ejects its own intestines to confuse predators, or the hagfish that ties itself into a knot to keep from suffocating in its own slime—there’s far more to Prager’s account than her ever-entertaining anecdotes: again and again, she illustrates the crucial connections between life in the ocean and humankind, in everything from our food supply to our economy, and in drug discovery, biomedical research, and popular culture.

You can listen to the whole interview and read an excerpt of the book by following this link

Interview Highlights

On the volcanic sexual activity of sea sponges

“A lot of the sponges release their sperm into the water. Other sponges will basically suck in that sperm and fertilize their egg. It looks like smoke coming out of the sponges and you look at it and go, ‘What the heck is going on?’ and they’re broadcasting sponge sperm.”

On the transgendered parrotfish

“If you have a harem of parrotfish — a group of female parrotfish, let’s say — and it has one dominant male. Something happens to the dominant male and it dies. Amazingly, within several weeks, one of those females can change to a male. And, in fact, some of them change to what we call supermales — [and] become big and extremely colorful and aggressive. They then become the dominant male of the other female parrotfish in the harem. I like to say, ‘It’s not only transgender. It’s transgender on-call.’ “

On the well-endowed conch

“Turns out that in the conch, they call the penis its verge. The verge has been the thing of limericks and poems. The biologists know all about this. Not only is it exceptionally long, but because the queen conch is this really big snail, the male sidles up to a female on the seafloor and he has to get his verge outside of his shell and around and underneath the female shell. So that’s why it’s so long. But there’s a little problem: When it’s outside of his shell, crabs and eels are all too happy to take advantage of his vulnerabilities. Yum, yum, yum. Well, poor conch. But turns out, he loses one [and] he just grows another. He can regenerate his penis.”

On why scientists are interested in kissing anglerfish

“The females are small, soft and they swim around trying to catch food. The males are dwarfs and their entire goal in life is to find a female. They swim around looking for the females. When they find them, I call it the ‘never-ending kiss.’ They bite into them and their lips get fused to the female and they end up living as a parasite on the female providing sperm. Scientists are really interesting in the immune system of anglerfish because the female’s body doesn’t reject the male.”

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