Spines on a male chimp's genitals likely increase stimulation in both males and females during intercourse, but could also cause damage to females.
Spring has not even officially sprung yet, but zoos and aquariums nationwide are celebrating the births of baby animals.
The Oakland Zoo in California recently announced the birth of three meerkat pups, now part of the current mob (group of meerkats).
"It has been wonderful watching the mob raise the pups," zoological manager Victor Alm said. "It has truly been a collective effort and all the adults are taking their turns caring for and teaching the new pups their different roles and jobs needed to be a productive meerkat."
Clouded leopard cubs are a rite of spring at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute's facility in Front Royal, Va.
The cubs are now part of an international program to conserve the species, which is threatened by deforestation and hunting.
Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo Safari Park
"Wesa" the California condor chick is the first such chick of the season at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The chick is being "puppet reared."
"The puppet is like a fancy glove," explained Rob Webb, senior condor keeper, "It covers our hands so the chick does not get any beneficial experiences from people. We do not want it imprinting on people or getting used to us when it goes out into the wild. We want it to be a nice, wild animal, not relying on people for food."
A baby orangutan delivered by C-section is doing well at Zoo Atlanta. Mother Blaze, now recovered, spends most days running over to her son, squeaking softly to him, and then hugging him onto her chest.
Keepers are providing the baby boy with environmental enrichment so that he is stimulated both mentally and physically. He is fascinated by his own reflection in a provided mirror.
A juvenile harbor seal had a rough start to life. Found off the coast of Delaware, he was suffering from abrasions and a severe respiratory infection.
Thanks to round-the-clock care provided by dedicated staff at the National Aquarium's Marine Animal Rescue Program, he is now on the mend. He has been enjoying a hearty diet of smelt and herring fish.
Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium
Five lion cubs were recently born at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium. During their last exam, the three females were found to weigh 19 to 22 pounds each, while the two males both came in at 23 pounds.
Mother "Mfisha" keeps the cubs in line and gently cleans each with her tongue.
San Diego Zoo Safari Park
A baby boy southern white rhino named "Kayode" is already said to be taking charge of his habitat at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in California.
"Kayode is a little tank, a very cute little tank, and he is showing lots of personality," said Jane Kennedy, lead keeper at the park.
"He loves running and interacting with his mom, sticking out his tongue, and showing the buffalo in his enclosure he's a rhino and he's in charge."
The giant Pacific octopus at the National Aquarium is just a baby, but as an adult it could weigh up to 90 pounds.
Aquarium staff members are providing enrichment to encourage cognitive development. One such brainteaser involves providing the octopus with a container in which food has been hidden. The octopus learns how to open the container and, with its 1,800 suction cups, finds the tasty fishy morsels.
The Audubon Zoo in New Orleans is proudly showing off its baby babirusa. Babirusas are forest-dwelling wild pigs native to Malaysia.
This youngster seems to follow mom wherever she goes in their sun-filled exhibit.
Five-week-old baby gorilla "Gladys Stones" is melting hearts at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden.
She was actually born at the Gladys Porter Zoo in Texas, hence her first name. "Stones" is to recognize the Stones Family who cared for her during her first few weeks of life before she traveled to Cincinnati.
Gladys appears to be very happy at her new home, affectionately grabbing primate keepers by the shirt with her fingers.
- DNA analysis reveals the common ancestor of chimps and humans had penis spines and a smaller brain than we do.
- Monogamy among both humans and Neanderthals appears to have driven the sexual anatomy changes.
- The findings strengthen evidence that humans and Neanderthals interbred.
Think you have a rough sex life? Try being a female chimp.
The male common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees had spines on their members that likely increased stimulation during mating, according to a new study in the journal Nature. Human males (and Neanderthals) dropped this trait, while chimps kept the spine.
The penis spines, while improving stimulation, can also inflict damage on females during intercourse.
The discovery, made after a detailed comparative analysis of human, Neanderthal and chimpanzee genomes, reveals that both humans and Neanderthals went on a separate evolutionary path from chimpanzees and other primates after humans often paired up into couples.
The finding also bolsters the theory that humans and Neanderthals would have been sexually compatible and likely mated.
"Humans have evolved a more monogamous long-term bonding system, which involves a whole series of anatomical changes," lead author David Kingsley told Discovery News.
"Spines are no longer present on the human penis, intercourse is longer, and females are sexually receptive for an extended period of time rather than just around ovulation," he added.
Kingsley, principal investigator at The Kingsley Lab at the Stanford University School of Medicine, and his colleagues studied such changes on a genetic level. The researchers identified 37,251 ancestral primate gene sequences lost in humans and Neanderthals. Probing even further, the scientists then focused on molecular events that likely led to significant anatomical changes in humans.
The scientists found complete deletion of 510 such gene sequences in humans, most of which are non-coding and are near genes associated with nerve function and steroid regulation. One of these deletions removed penile spines in human males.
These spines, still present on chimpanzee males, "have been proposed to do many different things, including increasing stimulation in males, increasing stimulation in females, removing copulatory plugs left by other males or even inflicting minor damage during mating so that females are less receptive to sexual intercourse with other males."
Another major genome deletion led to an expansion of specific brain regions in both humans and Neanderthals.
Kingsley explained that genome deletions can lead to anatomical losses or gains, depending on how the sequence is laid out and evolves.
Most of the losses and gains identified by the researchers are also found in Neanderthals, suggesting that the changes evolved after the split of the human and chimp lineages about six million years ago, but before the split between Neanderthals and modern humans occurred roughly 500,000 years ago.
"Neanderthals are already known to have cranial capacities that were as large or larger than humans, so it is not surprising that molecular changes related to brain expansion are found in both Neanderthals and modern humans," Kingsley said.
"Our study shows that Neanderthals also likely resembled modern humans in lacking penile spines," he added. "This is consistent with the idea that interbreeding could have occurred between the two forms, an idea that is already strongly supported by the detailed analysis of the Neanderthal genome published last spring by Svante Paabo's group."
Paabo, director of the Department of Genetics at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, told Discovery News that it was smart of Kingsley and his team to have "identified a set of features lost in humans that are likely to have functional consequences."
"This is a clever thing to do and," he added, "as so often is the case with good ideas, seems almost obvious in hindsight."
"Since two of the almost 500 conserved features they identified turn out to be very interesting, I am sure that several other ones on their list will turn out to be so too." Paabo concluded.