A fossil bone in Estonia led to the discovery of the origins of sex

A single fossil bone that was kept in Estonia and accidentally discovered by an Australian scientist led to the discovery of the origins of sexual intercourse.

John Long, a palaeontology professor at Flinders University in Australia, discovered the fossil bone from the collections of the Tallinn University of Technology where he was handed a box of bones by chance. Among these there was a plate with a strange, grooved bone. After studying the bone more closely, Long discovered it to be a sex organ, the oldest and the most primitive one found on Earth.

A computer-generated simulation of placoderms having sex. Source: Flinders University/YouTube.

According to the research, the fossil bone belongs to a tiny fish called placoderm. The first sexual intercourse was, according to the professor, done “sideways, square dance style”. The male placoderm had bony, L-shaped genital limbs to transfer sperm to females, and the females had small paired bones to lock the male organs in place for mating. Measuring about 8 cm long, placoderms called Microbrachius dicki lived in ancient lake habitats in Scotland, as well as parts of Estonia and China.

It is thought the first sexual intercourse took place about 385 million years ago in Scotland.

The findings were recently published in the Nature journal.


Cover photo: Microbrachius dicki.

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