National / Science & Health

Japanese among research team who won Ig Nobel award for discovering insects with reverse-sex genitalia

Kyodo, AP

A group of four scientists, including two from Japan, won the spoof Ig Nobel biology prize on Thursday for their discovery of insects with genitalia that reverse the traditional sex roles.

The recipients include Kazunori Yoshizawa, associate professor at Hokkaido University, and Yoshitaka Kamimura, associate professor at Keio University. Japanese have now won Ig Nobels for 11 years straight.

Their two collaborators are Rodrigo Ferreira, professor at Federal University of Lavras in Brazil, and Charles Lienhard of the Natural History Museum of Geneva in Switzerland.

“I am extremely happy” to receive the prize, Yoshizawa told Kyodo News. He said his group’s research was regarded highly due to the uniqueness of the subject rather than any kind of innovation in scientific technique.

After analyzing four species of insects from caves in Brazil belonging to the insect genus Neotrogla, they discovered that the females of these species possess penis-like genitals, while the males have vagina-like phallosomes.

During copulation lasting some 40 to 70 hours, a potentially nutritious ejaculate is transferred from the male via the female organ, the gynosome, which is composed of muscles, ducts, membranes and spikes.

“The correlated genital evolution in Neotrogla is probably driven by reversed sexual selection with females competing for seminal gifts,” the 2014 report states.

The biology prize was one of the 10 prizes announced in a ceremony at Harvard University for this year’s Ig Nobel, which was based on the theme of “Uncertainty.” The four scientists were absent from the ceremony but delivered a short video acceptance speech, filmed in a cave.

The awards are sponsored by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research, the Harvard-Radcliffe Science Fiction Association and the Harvard-Radcliffe Society of Physics Students.

This year’s winners — who each received $10 trillion prizes in virtually worthless Zimbabwean money — also included scientists who discovered that old men really do have big ears, that playing the didgeridoo helps relieve sleep apnea and that handling crocodiles can influence gambling decisions.

The 27th annual awards were announced Thursday at Harvard University. The ceremony featured a traditional barrage of paper airplanes, a world premiere opera and real Nobel laureates handing out the 10 prizes.

“It’s a strange honor to have, but I am thrilled,” Dr. James Heathcote told The Associated Press. A British physician, Heathcote won the Ig Nobel for anatomy for his big-ear research.

For his study, Heathcote measured the ear length of more than 200 patients and discovered not only that old men have big ears, but also that ears grow about 2 mm (0.08 inches) per decade after age 30. Women’s ears grow with age, too, but their ears are smaller to start with, and men’s big ears may be more noticeable because they tend to have less hair, he found.

“There’s something magical about measuring the ears,” he said.