Admittedly, the above title was my second choice for this story. But it has the advantage of being printable.
Who says science is boring?
Today, in the New Scientist we learn that avian flu may be a sexually transmitted disease . . . in ducks.
What follows, for some, may be way more than you ever wanted to know about the copulatory habits of water fowl.
So fair warning.
However, the upshot here is that research has found `that ducks with the smallest penises and tamest sex lives had the highest flu levels’, proving that life is abundantly unfair – even for ducks.
A hat tip to Dutchy on FluTrackers for the most ornithologically ribald story of the day.
Follow the link to read the story in its entirety.
- 15:15 19 October 2009 by Nora Schultz
Bird flu may be a sexually transmitted infection – at least in ducks. That's the suggestion of an analysis of flu prevalence and mating behaviour that also proposes an easy way to spot duck populations most at risk of harbouring avian flu.
Surprisingly, the more rampant the sex a particular duck species indulges in, the lower the chance of spreading the virus. It's all to do with penis size and the complexity of the females' vagina.
Lethal strains of avian flu virus can evolve from harmless versions and then jump to other species, so it is important to also monitor less dangerous strains in wild birds. Ducks are the main wild hosts of bird flu, but surveillance is difficult without easy markers of infection risk.
Now Gergely Hegyi at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary, and colleagues think they may have found just such a marker: the "covert" wing patches that ducks display during mating. This finding builds on the previous work by the team, in which they found that species with large penises tend to have smaller wing patches, which are also more likely to be a single colour.
Gergely Hegyia, Anders Pape Møllerb,c, Marcel Eensd and László Zsolt Garamszegie