I’ve been thinking about isopods lately. What’s an isopod? On land, you’d recognize it as a “pillbug.” But in the ocean, they get a little too big to hide under rocks.
Meet Bathynomus giganteus, the Giant Isopod. How giant is he? This giant.
This foot-long crustacean travels the deep ocean floor, scavenging on whale carcasses and hunting slow-moving animals. Like a pillbug, it can roll itself up in a ball when threatened. It reportedly has the largest eggs of any marine invertebrate, which it keeps in a sort of marsupium — a pouch.
But B. giganteus isn’t the isopod I’m thinking about today. My last post was about girls that look like boys, and I promised that this post would be about boys that look like girls. And what I came up with was another isopod, Paracerceis sculpta. These tiny, pillbug-sized tidepool denizens look innocuous enough. In truth, many of the males like to play dress-up in high heels. And some prefer diapers.
These isopods lay their eggs in the cavities of sponges. Because the sponges are a limited commodity, the females end up in harems inside each sponge, which is jealously guarded by a big alpha male which stands sentry over the entrance. He will have mating rights over all the females in his sponge. But alpha males aren’t alone: about a third of the males in this species are beta males… who look just like females.
I think you’ve seen this Bugs Bunny cartoon.
Or maybe Don Juan is more apt. If the Alpha isn’t careful, he’ll let in a beta male, thinking he’s just added to his harem, when in fact he just let the backdoor man in by the front door. This is the equivalent of a sultan inviting a veiled, belly-dancing gigolo into his pleasure chambers.
But if that wasn’t sneaky enough, there are also gamma males, who look just like juveniles. Since a juvenile entering the sponge is less tolerated than a female, gamma males seem to have less success than betas. However, gammas have a secret weapon: they’re hung. They have far bigger testes than betas or the relatively puny-packaged alphas, so although they fool the alphas less often, the ones who do can really make the most of it. Thus, the infantilizing, big-balled gamma gene survives.
Moral of the story: if you don’t have the impressive brawn to win over the ladies, you can always try being effeminate, or childlike, and go for stealth. I think we’ve all known guys who’ve managed this maneuver.