Does Constipation Affect Mating Prospects?

Now that we’ve gotten your attention with that headline, it’s probably a good time to let you know you this article will not help you with your quest to find your soulmate. It won’t, that is, unless you happen to be a scorpion.

Some scorpions can shed their tails when attacked. This ability is known as autotomy. The decision to jettison its tail comes at a high price. Other critters, such as lizards, grow a replacement tail or simply live out their lives without one. When a scorpion loses its tail, however, it abandons more than a weapon. The tail also houses the scorpion’s anus.

In other words, by shedding its tail, a scorpion loses its ability to poop.

Once a scorpion pushes the eject button on its tail, its days are numbered. By shutting off the exit to the digestive system, the scorpion’s body slowly fills with feces, dooming it to inevitable death by constipation.

Who hasn’t known the discomfort of being less than regular? If you should be so unfortunate, you know that hours can seem like days as you wait for the Metamucil to do its magic. Be thankful you aren’t a tailless scorpion. The constipation that will ultimately end the scorpion’s life lasts for about eight months.

If you were facing an eight-month bout of blocked bowel, you’d probably confine yourself to bed and have nothing else on your mind. In the scorpion world, it’s a different story. Hope springs eternal, and even a constipated, tailless scorpion’s thoughts turn to love.

What sort of mating prospects would a terminally-constipated amputee scorpion have? Thanks to researchers led by Solimary García-Hernández and Glauco Machado, we know the answer.

The scientists arranged some blind dates between stump-tailed and intact scorpions. They naturally assumed the tailless male scorpions would be less successful at mating than their fully endowed counterparts. Much to their surprise, having a belly full of ever-expanding feces did not throw cold water on the sparks of romance. The males were not at all distracted, despite their discomfort, and managed to charm the females, even without a tail.

“…because death by constipation takes several months, males have a long time to find mates and reproduce.”

— excerpt from the study’s abstract

The researchers published their findings in “Short- and Long-Term Effects of an Extreme Case of Autotomy: Does ‘Tail’ Loss and Subsequent Constipation Decrease the Locomotor Performance of Male and Female Scorpions?” They were awarded the 2022 Ig Nobel Prize in Biology for their ground-breaking discoveries.

Although the study found that constipation did not play a significant role in the males’ prospects for mating, it was a different story with the females.The researchers found that tailless females, while able to mate successfully, went on to have 20 percent fewer offspring than intact females. One possible reason is the five-month pregnancy of the scorpion. The researchers hypothesize that the buildup of feces is either toxic to the embryos or that the feces simply crowds out the developing scorplings. The study notes that a severely constipated scorpion can weigh 30 percent more than it did before it lost its tail. By comparison, that’s equivalent to a 150-pound person gaining 45 pounds of poop weight.

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