Why Do Female Hyenas Have Pseudo-Penises?!


Hi, this is Kate from MinuteEarth, and before
we start, I want to let you know that this video covers the ins and outs of hyena genitalia,
so if that’s not something you’re keen to learn about, you can check out some of
our other videos. But from the comments on our recent hyena
video, we learned that a lot of people are really curious about what, exactly, is going
on with hyena genitalia. And they’re not alone – everyone from Aristotle
to Hemingway to a host of modern scientists has been interested in why, exactly, female
spotted hyenas seem to have penises. Females urinate through these 7-inch long
phalluses, and they’re fully erectile. But since they don’t deliver sperm, they
aren’t actually penises – they’re elongated clitorises. Spotted hyenas are the only hyena species
to sport these so-called pseudopenises, and while a few other female mammals have male-like
genitalia, the spotted hyena’s is the most male-like by far – complete with a pseudoscrotum. All the female reproductive parts are there,
but the entrance is so unwieldy that females have to mate – and give birth – through what’s
essentially a penis. Mating via pseudopenis is about as awkward
as you might imagine [speak slowly]. In order to make sex possible, the female
actually has to retract her pseudopenis, so male hyenas can’t force females to have
sex. And speaking of which, we got a lot of comments
about female hyenas forcing sex on males, but there just isn’t any evidence that this
ever happens. Then, there’s giving birth, which involves
forcing a 4-pound cub through an inch-wide, 23-inch-long birth canal, which is…not easy. For first-time moms, somewhere around 60 percent
of cubs get stuck in this gauntlet and suffocate before they’re even born. And a dead cub stuck in a mom’s pseudopenis
can be fatal for her, too. A hyena’s pseudopenis actually has to rip
for her to give birth successfully, which leaves behind a stretchy patch that does make
birth easier the next time. In our earlier video, we talked about why
it sucks to be a male hyena, but there’s also a lot that sucks about being a female
hyena. So why do they have such incredibly unwieldy
genitalia? Is fending off male suitors so critical that
pseudopenises evolved as protection? Doubtful – females are dominant enough to
keep suitors in check without any help. Are female hyenas trying to confuse others
into thinking they’re males? Probably not – even experienced humans can
tell what’s pseudo and what’s not, and hyenas have lots of other ways of distinguishing
females from males. So far, we just don’t have a convincing
explanation for why nature has also given female hyenas the shaft. There’s now a laughably easy way for you
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