Scientists Have Discovered – Not One, but Two – Clitorises in Snakes


Dec 15, 2022


Image Credit: Folwell et al

Scientific bias against the female anatomy isn’t just restricted to human bodies; female genitalia in snakes, too, has been acutely neglected. We’ve known for a while that male snakes have two penises. However, it’s only now that scientists have found that their female counterparts have clitorises — not just one, but two, in fact.

Published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, a new study has been instrumental in overcoming the “massive taboo around female genitalia” in snakes, said Megan Folwell from the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Adelaide, who led the study. “I know [the clitoris] is in a lot of animals, and it doesn’t make sense that it wouldn’t be in all snakes… I just had to have a look, to see if this structure was there or if it’s just been missed.”

Until now, the dual, heart-shaped clitorises had been mistaken for either scent glands or under-developed versions of the dual penises possessed by male snakes. “Female genitalia are conspicuously overlooked in comparison to their male counterparts, limiting our understanding of sexual reproduction across vertebrate lineages,” the study notes.

The discovery of the two individual clitorises — called hemiclitores — could point to the organs having functional significance in the act of mating between snakes. This “counters the long-standing assumption that the clitoris is either absent or non-functional in snakes,” Folwell notes. She hypothesizes that the hemiclitores might play a part in vaginal relaxation and lubrication, allowing female snakes to avoid potential damage from the hooks and spines on snake penises.

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Not only that, but the new research also challenges our perspective on mating between snakes, which was believed to be rooted in coercion. “We found the heart-shaped snake hemiclitores is composed of nerves and red blood cells consistent with erectile tissue — which suggests it may swell and become stimulated during mating,” Kate Sanders, co-author of the study and a researcher at the University of Adelaide, who specializes in the study of sea snakes, told CBS News. “This is important because snake mating is often thought to involve coercion of the female — not seduction.”

We know the taboo around female genitalia is detrimental to the health of human beings assigned female at birth. The female anatomy, in general, has been woefully under-researched by scientists — resulting in women’s symptoms being disregarded, their health issues being overlooked, and their pleasure and pain rarely being considered worthy of scientific investigation. “Most of our understanding of ailments comes from the perspective of men; it is overwhelmingly based on studies of men, carried out by men,” Lynn Enright, the author of Vagina: A Re-education, had told The Guardian.

The present study has made it clear that our systemic ignorance of the female anatomy is also interfering with our understanding of the fauna around us.

As they say, though, better late than never. “It’s good that the research community is starting to look at the other side of the story,” notes Folwell. But it’s only the start; next, she intends to investigate the neural pathways that involving the hemiclitores, and the role they might play in snake behavior.


Written By Devrupa Rakshit

Devrupa Rakshit is an Associate Editor at The Swaddle. She is a lawyer by education, a poet by accident, a painter by shaukh, and autistic by birth. You can find her on Instagram @devruparakshit.


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