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  • Richard Conniff writes about behavior, in humans and other animals, on two, four, six, and eight legs, plus the occasional slither.

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Underwater Vampire Sex

Posted by Richard Conniff on July 15, 2013

Rock sucker ( (Photo: Courtesy of Cory O. Brant, Michigan State University)

Rock sucker ( (Photo: Courtesy of Cory O. Brant, Michigan State University)

This is my latest for TakePart.com.  The lovely headline is from my editor Sarah Fuss, who gets the SEO  prize for headline of the week, I think.  (SEO, for those of you happily unaware of the peculiar ways of the internet, stands for search engine optimization, and the trick is to choose your first three words in such a way that no sentient human can help but double-click.  Sarah’s three words hit the nail on the head, I think, or maybe drive the stake into the heart of SEO.)

Animals don’t come much uglier than the sea lamprey. It’s a 550-million-year-old eel-like species, typically less than 20 inches in length. In place of a mouth and a jaw, it has an oral disk. Think of a suction cup, but studded across the inner surface with wicked little teeth. 

In the Great Lakes, it uses this formidable instrument to latch onto trout, whitefish, and other species. Then it rips through the skin with its razor sharp tongue and slowly sucks out its victim’s blood and other bodily fluids.

Now a new study takes a closer look at the sex lives of these aquatic vampires and makes it sound—not too surprisingly—like a bad night at a leather bar. Writing in The Journal of Experimental Biology, Michigan State University researcher Weiming Li and his co-authors set out to determine the function of a swollen ridge called “the rope” that develops just ahead of the front dorsal fin in mature males. It turns out that the rope makes males hot, literally and figuratively…        to read the rest of this story, click here.

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