Science!: Sperm Battles And Bad Fathers

Lauren Admire | 22 Mar 2010 21:00

Sperm Battles

Interesting fact: A leafcutter ant queen mates only one day during its entire lifespan. In that single day, the queen receives about 300 million sperm, which is all she will ever need to fertilize all of her eggs throughout her lifetime. And while the sperm waits to connect with an egg, they fight.

The seminal fluid of male ants has evolved to be harmful to rival sperm, likely an advancement to spread their own genetic line. Boris Baer and his team investigated the seminal warfare by turning a male ant's seminal fluid against the sperm of rival male ants. During the sperm vs. sperm showdown, Baer found that 50 percent of the rival sperm was killed within fifteen minutes.

However, the queen can choose to protect her chosen sperm. She can secrete a fluid that will protect sperm from the toxic seminal fluid of rival males. However, the queen can let the rival sperm battle it out within her abdomen for as long as she likes, and then release the protective fluid to keep the survivors, and thus the strongest sperm, alive.

And before anyone asks, no, the same thing is likely not going on in human seminal fluid:

"To my knowledge women do not copulate with 90 mates in half an hour, so whether there is much room that this has evolved in humans as well, I have my doubts," says Baeur. "[But] in the sperm world you must be prepared for everything."

Source: Discover

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