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Boffins: Gigantic crustacean sperm is 'viable strategy'

Ostracods' jumbo jism is 10x longer than own bodies

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A crack team of international boffins has uncovered startling facts about certain species of crustaceans which produce sperm ten times as long as their own bodies. If human males produced such "giant sperm", according to the scientists, the result would be tadpole-esque horrors 17 metres long.

Renate Matzke-Karasz, of the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich, led a team of top spunkoarchaeologists in her search through the fossil collections of the Natural History Museum in London. She and he collaborators were especially interested in the prehistoric ancestors of certain aquatic crustaceans which reproduce using the above-mentioned unfeasibly enormous sperm. Appropriately enough these (very) spunky little fellows are known as "ostracods".

Reproduction using spermatozoans ten times as long as oneself - let alone as long as one's generative organs - is a serious business both for the male and the female of the species. As Matzke-Karasz puts it, this biological method "comes at an exceedingly high price for both genders, as a lot of energy is invested in producing and carrying such enormous sperm".

She and her fellow jumbo-jizz experts had thought that perhaps the crustacean colosso-spunk phenomenon was of recent origin, with the ostracods soon to become extinct under the crippling strain of their insanely demanding sex lives.

But it seems not. Clues were found in fossils dating back 100 million years using "synchrotron X-ray holotomography" - apparently "the most powerful and sensitive way to investigate in three dimensions and at a microscopic scale, the internal anatomy of exceptional fossils without damaging them". According to the fossil ostracod 3D internal particle-punisher photos, the old-time aqua-crustaceans perpetuated themselves using sperm every bit as enormous as the modern generation.

"It seems to be an evolutionarily successful reproduction strategy," comments Matzke-Karasz. She and her colleagues' paper, Sexual Intercourse Involving Giant Sperm in Cretaceous Ostracode, can be read (by subscribers) in today's issue of Science magazine here. ®

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