Insect Genitalia: an Entomological Obsession

I’ve mentioned before how much I enjoy some of the randomness that shows up in my Inbox because I’m an entomologist. Today’s example:

“Subject: Genetalia vials
I have been using small genitalia vials (10mm x 4mm) that I purchased from BioQuip. They say they are no longer made and they only have them in 15mm x 5mm …Can anyone steer me toward a good supplier for glass vials?”

If you aren’t an entomologist, or living with one, you may not understand the entomological obsession with genitalia.*  There are lots of very similar looking insects. (There’s whole groups of moths commonly known as “LBJs”.  They aren’t named after the president–LBJ stands for “little brown jobs.”)

Sometimes the only way to tell similar looking insects apart is to look at the naughty bits.  Because species are defined by reproductive isolation, similar looking outsides may hide radically different-looking innards.

So, for about the last 100 years, entomologists have been hunched over insect nether parts, trying to figure out what species they were looking at.  Since there is …..shrinkage….after death, the squidgy bits are commonly removed from specimens and stored in in tiny vials full of preservative.  Hence: the email.

The study of insect genitalia is so important, all sorts of devices have been invented and devised for just that purpose.  I could swear that I had covered the phalloblaster at the Bug Blog before, but apparently not. Because of the…shrinkage…it can be difficult to get the male genitalia to expand enough to see important details. Some clever Aussies invented a device to…err. Apply pressure in the proper spot?

“The Phalloblaster inflates the genitalia with a stream of pressurised alcohol to create the same shape as when the insect was alive.”

The alcohol dehydrates and hardens the structure, so that once the process is over the genetalia remain inflated rather like miniature balloons. It makes them easier to study.”

Of course, this device is properly called the vesica everter.  But who the hell would call it that when you can say PHALLOBLASTER?  (You can visit this page and see a post-mortem insect “erection” in action.)

If you would like to look at more photos of bug dongs studied using the Phalloblaster, you can check out this article on bumpy beetle penises.  BTW, the proper name for an insect intromittent organ is an aedeagus.  I thought you would want to know.

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*I keep telling you, it’s perfectly normal that I’m obsessed with sex. It’s all part of science!

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10 thoughts on “Insect Genitalia: an Entomological Obsession

  1. I like to think that staring at male insect genetalia all day is the reason we taxonomists are a little crazy. I mean, if you looked at aedeagi all day wouldn’t it drive you nuts too?

    Never heard of the phalloblaster before now. In my work, I take a syringe and use it to blow out the tissues with water after clearing, so its SORTA like that.

    Best use of the word aedeagus I ever heard was as a farewell.

    Aedeagus!

    ~Kai

  2. there is a womman in Anniston Alabamma.who has been infested by a botfly for over five years.doctors have not been able to help her.please some one help this woman.her name is Lois XXXXX \.Her phone number is XXXXXXXX.

  3. John–I edited your reply to remove this woman’s name and phone number.

    First, botflies don’t live that long, so something else is clearly going on.
    Second, please see “Bug Girl will Not Diagnose You” on the right side bar.
    Third, you should NEVER post a phone number, name, and/or address on the net.
    It also makes me suspect that you are perhaps just wanting to cause trouble for poor Lois…..particularly since you put this comment on a post about gonads.

  4. Ok I traveled to the colca canyon in arequipa-peru last week. ANd i found bees in the ground and was caving holes. This bees have a brillant yellow colour and a soft coat of white fur in the chest and legs. Do you know if this bee is in the entomology books?
    Im a peruvian medicine student so excuse me for mi bad english.

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