New Mexico insists Pluto's still a planet, a pawless panda struggles to mate, and the English and Irish are mostly just Spanish.

State of the Planet
If Big Brother says 2 + 2 = 5, does that make it so? The state of New Mexico likely has no objections, as they’re now considering going over the heads of the International Astronomical Union and deciding that whatever the rest of the world may believe, Pluto will always be a planet in the American Southwest. A joint memorial introduced by representative Joni Marie Gutierrez concludes, “be it resolved by the legislature of the State of New Mexico that, as Pluto passes overhead through New Mexico’s excellent night skies, it be declared a planet and that March 13, 2007 be declared ‘Pluto Planet Day’ at the legislature.” Ignoring the dwarf planet’s spherical shape and skirting the issue of orbit clearing, the memorial notes that Pluto has been recognized as a planet for 75 years, it has three moons, its diameter is large, and its discoverer spent a longtime in—where else?—New Mexico. The measure appears to have been temporarily tabled, but perhaps sometime this week, New Mexico will celebrate the planet-that-was as the planet-that-still-is.

Head in the Sand
In a world of endangered biodiversity, randy animals are key to sustaining our planet’s health. So what a shame it was when Gustav the German ostrich suddenly lost his healthy lust for the lady birds. What was the cause of this distressing state of mind? According to a lawsuit filed by farmer Rico Gabel, three teenage boys set off firecrackers near the farm, scaring Gustav and spurring a six month depression during which an apathetic Gustav refused to breed with his two female partners. Although Gustav did eventually learn to love anew, the farmer is seeking damages for the little ostriches he would have gained during the six months of Gustav’s celibacy. Gabel asserts that 14 young ‘uns would have been born during the period, each one worth about $460. The suit will be heard this week. Hey, as sad as it is for the farmer, at least Gustav’s not a panda.

The Right to Bear Arms
Speaking of foiled panda sex (and aren’t we always?), a new obstacle has arisen in the collective love life of China’s national treasure. No, Chuang Chuang and Lin Hui are no more celibate than usual. But since wild giant panda Niu Niu lost a paw in a fight, she has not been able to balance herself well enough to stand up, and she therefore cannot mate with potential suitors. Nui Nui also can’t feed herself, since she needs both paws to grasp the bamboo. Staff at the rescue center in Shaanxi province are attempting to get Nui Nui an artificial leg. Prosthetic manufacturers from around the globe are invited to participate, and local producers have flocked to examine the panda. The center hopes that one day in the near future, a four-limbed Nui Nui will return to the wild for an independent life of eating and mating. Good luck, Nui Nui, a little disability need not cripple your sex life.

Bonnie Gene
English? Irish? What’s the difference? They’re all Spanish anyway. According to a new book by Oxford medical geneticist Stephen Oppenheimer, ancestors of both British and Irish people came to the islands from Spain 16,000 years ago, speaking a Basque-related language. Glaciers had wiped out earlier populations, and when they receded, southerners could have walked straight from the European continent to Britain across a dry English Channel or Irish Sea. By 7,500 years ago, the islands had amassed about three-quarters of their ancestors. Later invaders, including Celts, Normans, Vikings and Anglo-Saxons, make up only 12 percent of the current Irish gene pool and a third of the current southern English pool, with no individual group comprising more than five percent of today’s genes. While some geneticists dispute the details of Oppenheimer’s story, they all agree that this newfound similarity between the nations will have absolutely no effect on their bitter rivalry. And even if it did, there would always be those bloody Frenchmen to hate.

Along Came a Spider Who Broke Off Inside Her
The battle of the sexes is rarely so nasty, brutish, and short as it is in the wasp spider. To arouse a mate, male spiders shake a female’s nest, then they creep under the lady’s body, mating for just a few seconds before the female stops copulation and attempts, often successfully, to kill her mate. The best a poor male can hope is getting away with his life and lots of offspring-to-be. And now, researchers have published a paper in the journal Behavioral Ecology documenting one heck of a mechanism for ensuring the latter: In 80 percent of copulations, the tip of the male’s genitalia breaks off inside the female, corking her sexual orifice so no other male’s sperm can get in and compete for fertilization. While it was previously thought that this odd behavior might occur so that the male could scamper away more quickly, the researchers found that the male’s chance of survival was no better in the cases where his genitalia snapped than when it didn’t. However, they did find that those promiscuous female wasp spiders did have shorter and less effective copulations with other males after one male left a makeshift chastity belt. The researchers also note this behavior only makes sense if the male doesn’t plan on having other opportunities to mate. Now that’s what I call putting all your eggs in one basket.

Period Peace
Since there’s no end to the ingenious devices of animal reproduction, we now turn to our friend and relative, the chimpanzee. When sexy male chimps aren’t available for some loving, female chimpanzees need not worry; they’ll get theirs soon enough. According to a study recently published in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, female chimps don’t synchronize their reproductive cycles. This allows males with prime heritable traits to make the rounds, gracing all eligible ladies with their genes. The researchers monitored anogenital swelling in female chimps in the Mahale Mountains National Park in Tanzania, noting that they tended to copulate most frequently during the “estrous period,” when the swelling was most pronounced. They found no significant synchronization between chimps’ cycles and concluded that they avoided all going into heat at one time. In addition to providing each female with an opportunity to have the best male mate, non-synchronized cycles help them avoid the worst. Male chimpanzees can coerce females into mating by using physical aggression, forced copulation, harassment, and intimidation. When the competition is placed on the males instead of the females, these desperate jerks have no chance at all.

Originally published March 12, 2007


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