A palaeontologist has discovered when and where reproduction by copulation and internal fertilisation (also known as S-E-X) first took place.
Professor John Long from Flinders University in South Australia dates heterosexual, penetrative sex to 385 million years ago in the place that later became Scotland (and OK, fine, to Estonia and China, too. But we Brits were definitely early adopters). And it’s our earliest vertebrate ancestors, placoderms (an eight-centimetre long ancient fish-type creature), who first did it.
For years, scientists hadn’t known what placoderms’ tiny limbs were for, but after discovering a placoderm fossil bone in the collection of Tallin University of Technology in Estonia, Long worked out that they were to guide the male’s claspers (their L-shaped genitals) into place. The female of the species, meanwhile, developed small bones that ‘locked’ their partner in place while they mated.
This realisation is one of the biggest breakthroughs in evolution, as it shows that our vertebrate ancestors stopped spawning and started copulating much sooner than was previously thought. Not only that, but they apparently had a completely different style to what evolved as standard later, getting it on side-by-side. (And now we have Brad and Angelina. Isn’t life miraculous?)
If you want to know all the down and dirty details, Professor Long’s study was just published in the journal Nature, and there’s an animation portraying ‘the first known copulation’ on YouTube. If you just want a quick peek at some proto-p*rn, here’s an artist’s impression of our ancestors in the act (really, really, really safe for work).
Image via David Martyn Hunt’s Flickr.
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