Female Snakes Have Had a Clitoris All This Time

Actually, 2 clitorises
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 14, 2022 11:36 AM CST
Female Snakes Have Had a Clitoris All This Time
A common death adder is seen in this stock photo.   (Getty Images/Ken Griffiths)

Male snakes have not one but two penises, called hemipenes, a fact that's been established since the 1800s. It wasn't until 2022 that their female counterparts' sex organs—two clitorises—were identified. The discovery of their hemiclitores is detailed in a new study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, with the study's lead author, PhD candidate Megan Folwell of the University of Adelaide, faulting "a massive taboo around female genitalia" for contributing to the lack of awareness of the organs until now. The Guardian reports the organs had previously been identified as scent glands or underdeveloped versions of penises.

AFP reports Folwell first dissected a common death adder in her search for the clitoris; "I was fortunate that the death adder had a reasonably prominent hemiclitores," she notes, per the Guardian. The BBC reports she decided to look for it because the explainers put forth in the scientific literature she read—that female snakes never had them or lost them through evolution—"just didn't quite sit right with me," she said. "I know it [the clitoris] is in a lot of animals, and it doesn't make sense that it wouldn't be in all snakes." Joined by Australian and American researchers, the group ended up dissecting nine species of snake, including the carpet python, puff adder, and Mexican moccasin.

All had hemiclitores, which are separated by tissue and hidden by skin on the tail's underside. They measured between less than a millimeter and 7 millimeters (about 0.25 inches). Folwell shared a couple of theories: that the hemiclitores "could provide some sort of stimulation signaling for vaginal relaxation and lubrication, which would aid the female in copulation [to] potentially prevent damage from those big ... hooks and spines [that some hemipenes have] during mating. ... It could also be signaling to the ovaries to ovulate and to the oviduct to potentially prepare for sperm storage," she added. (More discoveries stories.)

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