Science: Update

IN A study that breaks new ground in the understanding of sexual promiscuity, a team of scientists believe they may have found the answer to a question that has baffled birdwatchers for more than a century - how the weaver bird got its false penis.

Male buffalo weavers stimulate females to orgasm via a "phalloid organ" - which is not a true penis because it lacks any ducts or tubes for emitting semen - in order to encourage them to retain their sperm, according to a theory proposed in this week's Nature. So extraordinary is the stiff protuberance that people in the bird's native Namibia once thought the organ had nothing to do with sex at all, but was a handy device for carrying sticks to the nest.

Dr Tim Birkhead and colleagues from the University of Sheffield, however, have shown that the false penis is used to stimulate females during copulation for up to 30 minutes, which ends with a pronounced orgasm, the first time the phenomenon has been recorded in animals other than mammals.

"We found that the phalloid organ was not inserted into the female but rubbed against her lower abdomen as a form of stimulation," Dr Birkhead said. The scientists believe that the unusual mating arrangement of the weaver bird - two males copulating with the same female - causes intense competition which has resulted in the evolution of protracted copulation and the false penis. "Protracted copulation may be some kind of test of the male by females," Dr Birkhead said.

u

EARTH MAY be sitting on the edge of an undiscovered field of asteroids that is quite separate from the most famous asteroid belt, between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, which was discovered 200 years ago. Asteroid belts contain large lumps of rock and iron, often many miles across, thought to be left over from the formation of the solar system. Astronomers have also discovered objects in the Kuiper belt, a region of stable orbits in the solar system beyond Neptune.

Now it is thought that asteroids can congregate anywhere where they are undisturbed by the gravitational forces of planets that may disperse them. One such stable haven exists very close to the orbit of the Earth, scientists report in Nature. Serge Tabachnik from Oxford University calculated that the stable region lay between the Earth and Mars, but was closer to the Earth.

The scientists suggest that a population of hidden asteroids may lurk in this zone.

No hard evidence has been found to support the theory. But a search through the catalogues of near-Earth objects reveals several recently discovered bodies that could occupy such a belt.

u

JAPANESE SCIENTISTS are using satellites to monitor the vertical motion of a buoy moored in the ocean to predict deadly tidal waves, New Scientist magazine reports.

The tidal waves, or tsunamis, are caused by underwater earthquakes, landslips or volcanic activity. When they hit land they are capable of destroying anything or anyone in their path.

"The idea of using a buoy may seem obvious, but it has only been made possible because of recent advances in GPS [Global Positioning System] technology," Teruyuki Kato, of Tokyo University's Earthquake Research Institute, told the magazine. The GPS network is made up of 24 satellites. They transmit time signals and receivers calculate their position so that vertical movement of the buoy can be calculated with an accuracy of a few centimetres.

Scientists can distinguish between possible tsunamis and normal waves because tidal waves have much longer wavelengths.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices