The 6 most bizarre types of sperm found in nature

You thought that 17-million-year-old sperm was weird? Well, it's in some very strange company SLIDE SHOW

Topics: slideshow, sperm, Animal Kingdom, Evolution, ancient sperm, antibiotics, Sex, Reproduction, Animals, ,

The 6 most bizarre types of sperm found in nature (Credit: Shutterstock)

Yesterday, it was announced that the world’s oldest known sperm was found in the fossilized remains of a freshwater crustacean called an ostracod.

Well, it turns out that this strange, giant sperm is just one example of wacky reproductive cells. Each species has different mating rituals, and some of those sexual reproductive issues includes some very strange sperm — and sperm storage. Here are five of the strangest male sex cells in the animal kingdom.

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    6 bizarre sperm

    7-million-year-old ostracod sperm

    This sperm is the world's oldest known male sex cell. It was found in Australia, preserved in the fossilized remains of freshwater crustaceans known as ostracods. The sperm is actually longer than the male ostracod itself -- estimated to be 1.3 millimeters long -- but was stored tightly wound up in the male sex organs. "Also preserved are the Zenker organs – chitinous-muscular pumps used to transfer the giant sperm to the female," researchers from University of New South Wales said.

    Shutterstock/belizar

    6 bizarre sperm

    Naked mole rat's "naked" sperm

    The naked mole rat is a creepy, unfortunate looking species. And its sperm is just about as strange as the creature itself.

    For starters, very few of these sperm can swim, which seems problematic when trying to reach an egg. In tests researchers found that only 7 percent could swim, and only 1 percent could swim fast. The sperm also have an oddly shaped head, and are rather small, according to Life Science. Another issues is that the genetic material being held by the sperm is not concentrated in one area.

    As if that wasn't enough of a setback, the sperm, like the mole rat, are "naked." Naked mole rat sperm lacks a coating that other animals have that help it swim through the female reproductive system. Still the naked mole rat still procreates! Sexual reproduction wonders never cease.

    Shutterstock/TravisPhotoWorks

    6 bizarre sperm

    Mallards' disease-killing sperm

    Female ducks prefer males with brightly colored bills, and for a very good reason. According to Live Science, the brighter the bill the better the sperm is at killing off bacteria. Yep, mallards have antibacterial sperm, which can fight off STD infections. Also associated with color of a duck bill, the speed of sperm. For ducks, the brighter the better.

    Shutterstock/Chris Moody

    6 bizarre sperm

    Squid torpedo sperm

    Get this: Male squids don't have any form ofd sexual intercourse with females to reproduce. Instead they torpedo specially packaged reproductive cells at her. The spermatophore, as it is called, is either handed off to the female (or male, they don't care) with a special arm (hectocotyl arm) or squirted at her. This isn't a loving gesture, the package actually pierces the other squid, a structure called a spermatangia is formed and then the sperm go do their job. h/t ScienceBlog

    Shuttertock/ninoninos

    6 bizarre sperm

    Female animals with long-term sperm storage

    So in this case it's not actually the sperm that's strange, but rather the interesting way that the females in several species can store sperm for long periods of time. According to National Geographic, female guppies, octopi and others can hoard sperm.

    In guppies, females outlive males so the ladies store sperm from multiple partners and have a choice of the best genes. The sperm are stored in a special space in the ovaries and are kept alive with small amounts of sugar until they fertilize the eggs.

    In octopi, scientists hypothesize that it is a matter of poor timing. Female eggs take longer to mature than sperm, and mating doesn't take place too frequently, according to National Geographic. So when they do mate, the lady stores sperm to make sure that little octopi babies are actually produced.

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Sarah Gray is an assistant editor at Salon, focusing on innovation. Follow @sarahhhgray or email sgray@salon.com.

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