Monday, April 25, 2011

Ellen Prager

Ellen J. Prager is former chief scientist at the world’s only undersea research station, Aquarius Reef Base, in the Florida Keys and a freelance writer. Among her publications are Chasing Science at Sea and the new book, Sex, Drugs, and Sea Slime.

Some highlights from her Fresh Air interview about the new release:

On the volcanic sexual activity of sea sponges

"A lot of the sponges release their sperm into the water. Other sponges will basically suck in that sperm and fertilize their egg. It looks like smoke coming out of the sponges and you look at it and go, 'What the heck is going on?' and they're broadcasting sponge sperm."

On the transgendered parrotfish

"If you have a harem of parrotfish — a group of female parrotfish, let's say — and it has one dominant male. Something happens to the dominant male and it dies. Amazingly, within several weeks, one of those females can change to a male. And, in fact, some of them change to what we call supermales — [and] become big and extremely colorful and aggressive. They then become the dominant male of the other female parrotfish in the harem. I like to say, 'It's not only transgender. It's transgender on-call.'"

On the well-endowed conch

"Turns out that in the conch, they call the penis its verge. The verge has been the thing of limericks and poems. The biologists know all about this. Not only is it exceptionally long, but because the queen conch is this really big snail, the male sidles up to a female on the seafloor and he has to get his verge outside of his shell and around and underneath the female shell. So that's why it's so long. But there's a little problem: When it's outside of his shell, crabs and eels are all too happy to take advantage of his vulnerabilities. Yum, yum, yum. Well, poor conch. But turns out, he loses one [and] he just grows another. He can regenerate his penis."
Listen to the complete interview.

The Page 99 Test: Chasing Science at Sea.

--Marshal Zeringue