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If you want to give a turtle an erection, use a vibrator

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A seven-inch, variable-speed silver bullet vibrator will do

A spiny softshell turtle, the same species used in the vibrator study.
Photo by J. N. Stuart / Flickr

So, let’s say you need to give a turtle an erection. There’s a quick and easy way to do it, a new study has found. It’s a seven-inch, variable-speed silver bullet vibrator. Yes, that kind of vibrator.

Turtle sexing is key for research purposes, and also for conservationists who are trying to pair mates. The easiest way to do that is to summon forth an erection, according to findings published in the journal Acta Herpetologica.

You see, determining the sex of a turtle isn’t easy. It’s possible to get clues from certain body traits like color, size, or claw length. But in certain species, the sexes aren’t visually distinct. In such cases, researchers have to measure testosterone levels or perform a surgery to check the turtle’s reproductive organ. That’s as invasive as it sounds: a study from this year describes the procedure on 31 loggerhead turtles, who were anesthetized and had endoscopes of either 12 inches or 63 inches in length (!) inserted into their butts.

So, erections seem like the kindest way to figure out whether a turtle is male or female, and scientists have found several inventive methods for wooing male turtles: bounce common snapping turtles up and down and they might just flash you as a reward; or you can try immobilizing the neck and limbs of Cotinga River toadhead turtles.

The vibrators, of course, are part of this ongoing turtle erection journey. Scientists captured 50 male turtles in ponds in southeastern Oklahoma belonging to four species: western chicken turtles, Mississippi mud turtles, common musk turtles, and spiny softshell turtles. They then began their experiments, described in the study as follows:

Once a male turtle was captured, we attempted to induce an erection by applying an 18 cm, variable-speed, silver bullet vibrator to its shell and tail. We vibrated turtles for 10 min or until an erection was achieved, and we recorded the amount of time that it took to induce an erection.

The turtles all responded a bit differently, but, in general, they liked it best when the tip of the vibrator was placed firmly on their tail, without any bouncing. The best erections were also achieved when the vibrator had fresh batteries, it was set on the fastest setting, and was moved around “in small, slow, steady circles.” The success of the method depended on the turtle species: 100 percent of spiny softshell turtles revealed their penises when vibrated, but only 56 percent of the common musk turtles did so.

A male spiny softshell turtle being vibrated on the tail.
Photo: Acta Herpetologica

The technique is cheap, can be easily performed in the field, and it’s non-invasive — in the clinical sense, at least. That makes it a top contender for sexing certain turtle species, the study says. “It has already proved useful in our own research,” the authors write. “Therefore, we think that it will enhance other research projects as well.”