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Finally: A Way to Collect Semen from Parrots

By Ross Pomeroy

Polly want to be artificially inseminated?

For years, it's been notoriously difficult for ornithologists to follow through with that statement. There's simply no easy way to collect semen from male parrots. The most successful method -- the massage technique -- involves applying "rhythmic pressure" to the cloaca, a small opening from which feces, urine, and semen is excreted. Yet that method is pitifully ineffective in many species, not to mention insanely awkward for everybody involved. In one study, researchers attempted to collect semen from blue-fronted Amazon parrots. Only 19 of their 330 "massages" resulted in ejaculation. Maybe they should have played some mood music?

But soon, the jokes may blessedly come to an end. In Tuesday's publication of Scientific Reports, a team of German biologists describes a novel technique for collecting semen from parrots, one that's far more successful than the previous massage technique.

To gather semen, the researchers inserted a specially designed electro-probe into the males' cloacas and applied short, soft bursts of electric current. They attempted this stimulation on 243 males from 151 different species, inducing ejaculation in 66.9% of attempts.

Among the species studied was Spix's Macaw, a parrot from Brazil thought to possibly be extinct in the wild. The researchers successfully collected semen from one male, and plan to use their technique to try to rehabilitate the bird's population.

"The present technique represents a breakthrough in species conservation programs and will enable future research into the ecology and environmental factors influencing endangered species," the researchers say.

Source: Lierz, M., Reinschmidt, M., Mu ̈ller, H., Wink, M. & Neumann, D. A novel method for semen collection and artificial insemination in large parrots (Psittaciformes). Sci. Rep. 3, 2066; DOI:10.1038/srep02066 (2013).

Steven Ross Pomeroy is the assistant editor of Real Clear Science. Follow him on Twitter @SteRoPo.

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