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July 19, 2007

In the anas*

I'm sure we've all had these moments in raising our kids.

You know what I'm talking about. Your teenager comes up to you to make an announcement. And not just any announcement.

Kid: Dad! Or Mom! Whoever you might be! I know exactly what I'd like to study in college and make my career.

You: You do?

Kid: I've, like, totally given up on the adult-entertainment star idea.

You: That's, uh, that's very good. I'm glad for you.

Kid: That is, like, so totally last year, really.

You: So what's your new plan?

Kid: I'm going to study the reproductive biology of ducks* and do research on the duck vagina.


Kid: Seriously, I just read about it in the Yale Alumni Magazine.

You: Yale? I didn't go to Yale.

Kid: Found it at the dentist's office. Listen! Here's what the article says: "Among ducks such as the mallard, the Pekin, and the long-tailed, the phallus can reach surprising length: 4 to 5 inches is common. The Argentine river duck, the champion in this department, has a phallus up to 16 inches long -- longer than the bird itself."

You: Now I know why you gave up that promising "acting" career.

Kid: But that's not all. In these ducks, the phallus "shrinks to the size of a rice grain after the mating season and grows again the following year," and it's "elaborately coiled." How cool is that?

You: I don't know. I thought that was a pathology.

Kid: Here's some more: "But although this phallus was first described in detail more than 100 years ago, no scientist ever bothered to investigate what seems the obvious corollary. That is, until Patricia Brennan, a post-doctoral researcher in ecology and evolutionary biology, entered the field. 'What kind of structure,' Brennan wondered, 'did he put it into?'"

You: Oh, my! Hold on, I need to sit down.

Kid: You really will have to sit down when you hear this: "Given the size of the duck phallus, Brennan guessed that she'd find 'an enlarged but simple sack' when she dissected female ducks. Instead, she uncovered a coiled organ bristling with detours, roadblocks, and dead ends. Upstream, it coils in the opposite direction from the phallus."

You: Now I remember! I read about this in the New York Times a while back. This researcher said about the phallus and vagina: "Obviously you can't have something like that without some place to put it in. You need a garage to park the car." Sounds like a bad imitation of a Kinky Friedman song, doesn't it? I remember that Brennan has a theory that the duck vagina was designed to prevent rape by ducks who were not her mate, right?

Kid: No, Brennan never had any duck as a mate.

You: I meant . . ., oh, never mind.

Kid: But, yeah, she thinks it has to do with rape. The magazine article calls it "forced copulation."

You: Yale. Anyway, here's my question for you. If she's already done the research, what's left for you?





Kid: Well, all right, forget about it. I'm back to adult entertainment.