The Earth has collapsed into a lawless fight for its scarce remaining resources. A select group of humans have been chosen to make the spaceflight to a new planet, but there’s trouble in this idyllic new land — creatures the likes of which our species had only been able to speculate about when we inhabited Earth. One sunny day our protagonist, a young shepherdess tending a flock of the colony’s sheep, gets a closer look when a pterosaur dives into her pasture and carries her off into the horizon. The rest of Taken By The Pterodactyl by Christie Sims and Alara Branwen is one more example of our current fascination with inter-species sex.
From tentacle porn to the success of vampire romance, inter-species sex has slowly made its way from the unspeakable corners of our minds to the spotlight. Today it occupies a place almost as mundane as nurse and teacher fantasies. But how did dinosaurs (and pterosaurs, which are not technically dinosaurs) get into it? A search on Amazon for “dinosaur erotica” turns up three pages with the sorts of descriptive tags you wouldn’t imagine encountering outside a porn tube site: “gangbang erotica,” “reluctant gangbang erotica,” and “breeding erotica.”
Mesmerized, I picked up Taken By The Pterodactyl, one of the $2.99 stories nestled among the offerings. As I read through it, I started to have the sort of annoying thoughts that some nonfiction writers have when they dive into fiction — did dinosaurs and pterosaurs really have penises? Or is it more likely that they mated through cloacal contact? Just how did these ancient creatures get it on?
I immediately pinged Brian Switek, author of My Beloved Brontosaurus, a wild romp through paleontology that touches on the various theories surrounding dinosaur mating.
“Birds are living dinosaurs, a specialized lineage that evolved around 150 million years ago and continues to thrive today,” Switek writes. “Crocodilians — a group that includes the alligators, gharials and crocodiles — are the closest living relatives of the group formed by extinct dinosaurs and modern birds.”
Because dinosaurs didn’t leave much of a trace in terms of soft tissue, researchers have turned to these, their closest living relatives. One characteristic shared by birds and crocodilians is the cloaca, an all-purpose point that accommodates the intestinal, reproductive, and urinary tracts in both males and females — meaning that the opening is used for urination, defecation, and reproduction.
In most birds, insemination happens when males squirt semen from the cloaca directly into the cloacal opening of females, what is referred to by ornithologists as a “cloacal kiss.” But, Switek points out, there are some birds that have penises — less than three percent, to give you an idea (sorry to break it to you like this but cocks don’t actually have cocks).
All of the birds that have penises appear near the base of the family tree, suggesting that birds lost their penises later in their evolution. Crocodilians have penises, too. As with the birds that retained their capacity for intromission (that is, penetration), the penis is located inside the cloaca and is only visible at certain times. Actually, determining the biological sex of crocodilians can be very difficult because males and females display a nearly identical cloacal slit when the penis is not protruding — and even when the sex organ is protruding, there remains some confusion because, apparently, female crocodilians have sizable clitorises!
“If the genitals of crocs and endowed birds are any indication, the dinosaur phallus took the form of a single, unpaired organ with at least one long runnel down which semen flowed during sex,” Switek says. That means that unlike mammals that have an internal duct through which semen is delivered, there is no surprising squirt from the head of crocodilians and bird penises — these have an external channel that directs the semen into the cloaca of the female.
Recent studies into other species seem to indicate that simplicity in the penis is a primitive feature. If dinosaurs had them, they were likely no stranger than crocodile penises.
Is it safe to say, at least, that these organs — if they were, in fact, possessed by dinosaurs — would be gargantuan? That’s difficult to determine. The ratio of body size to penis length is highly variable among dinosaurs’ living relatives. Penises measuring 15.7 inches (40 centimeters) have been observed in ostriches, which clock in somewhere between 6 feet 11 inches to 9 feet 2 inches (2.1 to 2.8 meters) in height. The duck, which on average is less than two feet in height (61 centimeters), boasts a penis between eight and nine inches (20 to 23 centimeters). Crocodiles measuring 15 feet (4.57 meters), have members much closer to average American penis sizes — 4 inches (10.16 centimeters). The male reproductive organ is highly specialized to fit the needs of a species, so the stature of the animal alone is not sufficient in determining its penis size.
Given we’re dealing with close to 2,000 dinosaurs that are believed to have lived between 245 million and 66 million years ago, Switek speculates that there are likely to have been many variations in genital shape and size. What about the logistics of an erection? Reptiles, like mammals, have vascular erections — they get hard when blood flows into spongy tissue in the penis. Ostriches and emus, on the other hand, have lymphatic erections, meaning that what flows into the penis to assist in erection is not blood but lymph, the clearish fluid that functions as a vital transport network for the circulatory system. Might some dinosaurs have have lymphatic erections as some birds do? Or were they vascular, like those among crocodilians? We can only guess.
Sex with dinosaurs isn’t a new concept. For the past eight years, a clip featuring a pterosaur gang-bang has been making the rounds online — in much the same fashion as shock videos like Goatse and Meatspin — surprising all those who trusted the sender enough to click the link without question. The scene, which anyone can find by Googling “pterodactyl porn,” consists of three male performers in pterosaur costumes having their way with Brandy Starz.
(You may have noticed that while erotic authors and the internet refer to these winged reptiles as “pterodactyls,” I’ve repeatedly used the word “pterosaurs.” This is because “pterodactyl” comes from the genus Pterodactylus, which falls under the order Pterosauria. Essentially, a pterodactyl is a type of pterosaur, but the term pterodactyl can’t be used to describe all varieties of this flying reptile any more than “wolf” can be used to talk generally about all canids.)
The pterosaur clip comes from the 2005 Excalibur Films production Perverted Stories #34. The number 34 is actually not a reference to Rule 34 of the Internet, which states that if you can think of it, there is porn for it, but rather corresponds to the Perverted Stories series, which between 1999 and 2005 dedicated itself to sex with the sorts of things you might have expected of the X Files (aliens, aquatic monsters, corpses, the bogeyman, Bigfoot) along with a host of other rather ethically unsavory partners and situations.
Attack of the Flying Lizard, as the scene in Perverted Stories #34 is called, offers the following teaser: “Suddenly, like a ton of pricks, it hit her. This cage wasn’t to keep things out. It was to keep things in! Giant, flying prehistoric beasts swooped in on the frightened girl and stuffed her every orifice with Jurassic cock.”
Despite the terrible costuming, the scene presented is a lot more likely than the one to be found in Taken By The Pterodactyl in which the protagonist is carried off by one of the creatures. I’d asked Switek whether even azhdarchids, the largest family of pterosaurs, which have wingspans of 33 to 36 feet (10 to 11 meters), could have carried off some 110 pounds of primate and he’d laughed and told me that was something for B movies. It wasn’t until I’d hit up Michael Habib, a paleontologist at the University of Southern California, that I understood just how far-fetched this notion truly was.
“Pterosaurs don’t have talons,” he told me matter-of-factly. “That’s a bird thing. Pterosaur feet were not for gripping. They were adapted for walking on the ground, much more similar to what you see in crocodiles.”
Which led to the next logical question — if pterosaurs had no talons, how did they hunt? In the central sequence of Taken By The Pterodactyl, we see a young shepherdess running while clutching a half-eaten lamb carcass, terrified that the predatory creature will return and threaten the rest of the flock. With no talons to speak of, the only other possible option is the jaw, but according to Mark P. Witton and Darren Naish, azhdarchid jaws packed a relatively mild bite.
In their 2008 paper Reappraisal of Azhdarchid Pterosaur Functional Morphology and Paleoecology, the researchers indicate that “azhdarchid jaws were ill suited for demanding feeding techniques or for subduing large, struggling prey, and were better adapted for handling relatively small or immobile food items.” Their research suggests that these large pterosaurs were terrestrial opportunistic feeders, foraging for “small food items that would not require strong bite forces or high mechanical strength to subdue or process […] relatively small vertebrates and large invertebrates, possibly supplemented with fruit and carrion.”
Or, as Habib summarized it, “think stork from hell.” And much like storks, evidence suggests that these large pterosaurs used external sources of lift while flying to conserve energy, such as thermal currents. There does remain some argument about whether azhdarchids were capable of flight at all given their ability to move on land. Habib disagrees, noting that simply having terrestrial competence doesn’t eradicate the possibility that a creature is also capable of flight.
“Giant azhdarchids possess skeletons that function well as flying apparatus and were almost certainly flighted as well,” he and co-author Mark P. Witton write in their paper On the Size and Flight Diversity of Giant Pterosaurs, the Use of Birds as Pterosaur Analogues and Comments on Pterosaur Flightlessness. “These observations do not preclude the existence of flightless pterosaurs, however: it is entirely conceivable that some forms may have abandoned flight given the right environments and selection pressures. In our view, however, the pterosaur lineage closest to abandoning flight may not be giant at all but, rather, the considerably smaller basal pterosaur clade Dimorphodontidae. Dimorphodon has been found to be a particularly heavyset pterosaur with relatively high wing loading, attributes found in modern fliers like rails and galliforms that find flight particularly energetically expensive. […] We stress, however, that there is currently no evidence that any pterosaurs fully surrendered their flight abilities and, conversely, a wealth of evidence suggesting that all pterosaurs were flighted.”
I can’t tell you how many scientific papers I’ve read these past few days. What started with an amusing look into the logistics of a tryst with a pterosaur had, in no time at all, come into focus on a much bigger picture, not only of this order, but of the task facing paleontologists as they go about piecing together a puzzle with so many missing pieces. Was this something the authors of this blossoming erotic genre had taken into account? I contacted Alara Branwen to ask. (Full interview here for the curious.)
“We gave the dinosaurs penises because that is something that is more familiar than cloaca,” replied the Texas Agricultural and Mechanical University student. “People connect with things that are the most familiar to them. That is also why we usually go with raptors that were six or seven feet tall, rather than the three feet they were — people are familiar with the velociraptors in Jurassic Park and thus when you say ‘raptor,’ that is what they think of. We decided that, instead of being accurate, we would just do what would help people connect with the story the best. In some of our upcoming stories, we have worked to be a little more accurate. However, all of our dinos still have penises.”
I asked her if we might expect to see any feathers on these lusty creatures any time soon. She promised me she and Christie Sims have something in the works. You’re thrilled, don’t lie.
Special thanks to Michael Habib and Brian Switek for the crash course on dinosaurs and pterosaurs. All my love to Scicurious for all the additional crocodilian and bird penis. I’m in the debt of Michael Whiteacre, without whom I might have taken a year to figure out where the pterosaur gang bang scene came from.