Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Estrogen Turns Male Snakes into Same-Sex Charmers

Give a male garter snake a taste of estrogen and watch out, as the hormone turns these lads into the sexiest thing on the block, attracting dozens of other males eager to mate.

The finding, published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, has implications for understanding the environmental impact of compounds that mimic the effect of estrogen, found in some chemicals and pesticides.

Estrogen, the researchers found, is key to a female's release of pheromones and thus, reproduction.
Here's how it works: For the red-sided garter snake, picking up a mate takes but a second and a flick of the tongue. When a male detects a possible mate nearby, he licks the female with a quick flick of his tongue. The chemical cues, called pheromones, exuded by the females are so strong it takes but an instant, the researchers say, for the male to determine the other snake's species, sex, population, reproduction condition, size and age. In fact, the males are totally dependent on these pheromones for snake reproduction.

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