Science | May 3, 2022 12:16 pm

Horny Dolphins Claim Their Latest Victim: An Anaconda

Not even a giant predatory snake is safe from the forces of dolphin horn

Dolphin leaping in open ocean. Last summer, researchers observed a case where dolphins were swimming around and playing with an anaconda, normally a snake animals don't mess with.
You cannot stop dolphin horn, you can only try to contain it.
Stephen Frink

Dolphins have a bit of a reputation for getting frisky with pretty much anything they can rub up against, be it man, fish or object. But now, the ocean’s horniest creatures seem to have turned their amorous attention toward a surprising new (and traditionally predatory) target: an anaconda.

According to the New York Times, researchers last summer were puzzled when they observed a pair of Bolivian river dolphins — which are a rare sight to see as they typically swim below the surface of the water — splashing about with what appeared to be a massive anaconda in their mouths. Based on the amount of time the semi-aquatic snake was held underwater by the dolphins and an apparent lack of obvious struggle on the part of the massive reptile, the researchers assume the snake had perished, either before or during its dolphin playdate. As biologist Steffen Reichle put it, “I don’t think that the snake had a very good time.”

Naturally, this was a strange sight to behold, in part because anacondas are apex predators not known to fall victim to other species, and also because dolphins and large snakes don’t usually make the most natural of playmates. In fact, Sonja Wild, a behavioral ecologist at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior in Germany who has observed dolphins doing all kinds of presumably un-dolphin-like things, like using shells as tools, told the Times this was the first she’d ever “heard of dolphins playing with a large snake,” calling it “a little extraordinary.”

That’s all great if you’re a scientist whose job is to discover animals doing things they don’t usually do. What makes this particular episode of unusual animal behavior interesting to me, a person who writes about sex on the internet, however, is that researchers also observed that the dolphins’ penises were hard during their little anaconda romp. This, then, seems to suggest that this dolphin-anaconda playdate was a sex thing.

“It could have been sexually stimulating for them,” said Diana Reiss, a marine mammal scientist and cognitive psychologist at Hunter College in New York. “It could have been something to rub on.”

Now, the fact that it was an anaconda is obviously funny thanks to a certain Sir Mix-a-Lot anthem and its 2014 Nicki Minaj redux. But in this case, the anaconda in question does not appear to have been much of a sexual aggressor. In fact, it seems this poor snake was probably an unwilling third in this aquatic threesome, one that may have become entangled with the dolphins during their sexual encounter. Alternatively, Reiss suggested the dolphins may have been trying to use the snake as a kind of dolphin fleshlight, attempting to insert their penises into the anaconda.

Either way, it seems that anaconda got some whether it wanted it or not, a reminder that no one, not even a giant predatory snake, is safe from the destructive forces of dolphin horn.