For February, weâ€™re focusing on the body parts that shape us, oxygenate us, and power us as we take long walks on the beach. Bony bonafide bones. These skeletal building blocks inspire curiosity and spark fear in different folksâ€”we hope our stories, covering everything from surgeries and supplements to good old-fashioned boning, will only do the first. Once youâ€™ve thoroughly blasted your mind with bone facts, check out our previous themed months: muscle and fat.
Humans may have perfected *** (or at least made the most earnest efforts to try), but we definitely didnâ€™t invent it. So who did? ****** reproduction is around 2 billion years old, but the way bacteria swap genes isnâ€™t really what we mean when we talk about the birds and the bees, and ancient red algae that relied on ocean currents to sweep their sperm cells to receptive partners doesnâ€™t sound much sexier. (David Attenborough makes a valiant attempt, however.)
The earliest evidence of organisms doing it like they do on the Discovery Channel comes in the form of fossils from some 385 million years ago. Delightfully and totally coincidentally named Microbrachius dicki, these antiarch placodermsâ€”a long-extinct group of armored fishâ€”swam around what are now Scotland and Estonia. This particular species was discovered by geologist Robert Dick in the 19th century, and the genus is so named for the â€ślittle armsâ€ť of bone found poking from their bodies. But Dick might have been slightly scandalized by the placodermâ€™s modern claim to fame: In 2014, researchers reported in the journal Nature that specimens of M. dicki showed clear and distinct male and female *** organs.
The male skeletons show protruding, L-shaped tubes of bone similar to cartilaginous â€śclaspersâ€ť that modern sharks and rays use to deliver sperm. The female skeletons, conversely, feature pairs of genital plates for the proto-penises to lock into. But with seemingly no flexibility to these external *** organs, M. dicki wouldnâ€™t have boned quite like we do (or even like sharks and rays do) today. Instead, they would have had to ease themselves into place so the fixed angles of their claspers and genital plates matched up.
â€śThey did it sideways, square dance style,” Flinders University paleontologist John Long told National Geographic in 2014.
Talk about **** dance moves. Hereâ€™s an artistâ€™s interpretation of how it all could have gone down:
It wasnâ€™t a straight evolutionary shot from square dancing bony fish to the wonderfully colorful spectrum of ****** activity animals enjoy today. The placodermâ€™s predilection for copulation was just a bit of brief ****** experimentation; fish would later lose the ability to fertilize eggs internally. Only a few regained the trait in a new fashion further down the evolutionary timeline, setting the stage for *** as we know it to emerge.
But before Tinder and Netflix and chill, there was the humble M. dicki getting it on in the only way it knew how: Awkwardly, and with a lot of bones.
This ancient bony fish was a ****** pioneer