The Guardian reveals research into the private lives of lady snakes, which has found that those things human scientists thought might be scent glands or underdeveloped penises were actually twin clitorises, or “hemiclitores”:
Male snakes and lizards are known to have hemipenes – a pair of penises which are everted outside the body during reproduction. In many species, hemipenes are covered in spines or hooks.
The study’s lead author and a PhD student at the University of Adelaide, Megan Folwell, said “a massive taboo around female genitalia” was a potential factor in why snake clitorises had not been described earlier. “I think it’s a combination of not knowing what to look for and not wanting to,” she said.
“Trying to find it is not always the easiest thing – some are extremely tiny,” Folwell said. She first dissected the clitorises in a death adder, in which the organ forms a triangle shape “like a heart”.
“I was fortunate that the death adder had a reasonably prominent hemiclitores,” Folwell said.
The study suggests that the sex organs “have functional significance in mating” in snakes. Though more research into snake behaviour is needed, Folwell said the team theorised the hemiclitores “could provide some sort of stimulation signalling for vaginal relaxation and lubrication, which would aid the female in copulation potentially prevent damage from those big hemipene hooks and spines during mating”.
You can read more of Folwell & colleagues’ research here, in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.