After the sperm has passed from the first animal to the other, the female swings around and begins nudging its penis toward the genital slit of the male. One of the first things you learn working with these animals is patience.All this trading comes about in an attempt to keep things fair, to let each slug have the same chance at passing on its genes. Why does one slug care if the other gets a fair shake?The answers lie, surprisingly, in the theory of games first published in the mid-1940s by mathematician and computer theorist John von Neumann and economist Oskar Morgenstern.Game theory is more often applied to the puzzles of arms control and economic planning, but its tenets can also explain the behavior of an animal like Navanax.Navanax, the ‘if you can’t eat it, mate with it’ animal.Befitting stereotypes about life in southern California, she says, Navanax doesn’t seem to have much else on what could loosely be termed its mind.To answer this question in an uncontroversial way, you’d have to first get everyone to agree on what counts as intersex —and also to agree on what should count as strictly male or strictly female. How small does a penis have to be before it counts as intersex?
It’s sort of a legend up and down the West Coast, says zoologist Janet Leonard of Oregon State University’s Marine Science Center.In fact, Navanax and its fellow sea slugs have become a favorite of neurobiological researchers precisely because a slug’s brain and behavior are a lot easier to map than, say, a cat’s or a mouse’s.Yet when one Navanax creeps up behind another and initiates sex, both slugs soon face a decision that’s almost never addressed by grander, fancier brains: when to be male and when to be female.Accordingly, females make many fewer eggs than males make sperm.And while males try to spread their inexpensive, abundant sperm far and wide, females try to invest their precious and limited store of eggs carefully.
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Below we provide a summary of statistics drawn from an article by Brown University researcher Anne Fausto-Sterling.