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It seems to be Initial Ew Factor Week here at Dovetail Rats. I suppose I’m reliving the introductory days of my love affair with our rattie friends. My first rats were girls. Why, you ask? Oh, you know….boys have those…things, those gross, vulgar, dangling giant….things!

As with tails, rat testicles occasionally (ok, often) elicit shudder responses from those of us who may only have caught a quick glance of them at the pet store or, heaven forbid, among our domesticated rats’ more urbane wild cousin, the city rat. Perhaps that sketchy guy who did, indeed, turn out to be an old-school, creepy raincoat-wearing flasher that day on the subway platform isn’t the only fellow who’s provided you with an unsolicited anatomy lesson.

The initial shock is understandable. Compared to humans, rats have large testicles. Why? Well, actually, it’s very simple. Rats, like many species, have a mating pattern that often involves females breeding with multiple males when they come into heat. The competition among males, therefore, to provide THE successful sperm that actually fertilize her eggs is intense. The larger the testicles, the more sperm is produced. The more sperm, the larger the odds of success. In short, big ol’ honking nuts are a real evolutionary advantage for male rats. All the best rats are sporting them.

This happens all the time in nature. Species that practice strict monogamy experience no advantage if their testicles are large. Species that compete for available females do. This is even true in primates, our own extended family. Here’s an exerpt from our reliable friends at www.ratbehavior.org:

What about the testicles of humans and our close relatives, the gorilla and the chimpanzee? Gorillas are large 400 pound animals, but their testicles are tiny, a little over 1 oz together. Gorillas live in small groups in which one male mates with multiple females — no sperm competition, hence the small testicles. Chimpanzees are much smaller animals, tipping the scales at 100 pounds, but they have large testicles weighing about 4 ounces together. Not surprisingly, chimpanzees live in groups with multiple males and females, and when a female comes into heat she may mate with several males in one day. This means lots of sperm competition, hence the large testicles.

Humans fall between gorillas and chimpanzees, with a body size around 150-200 pounds, and testicles that weigh about 1.5 ounces. Human testicles are neither especially large nor especially small. This indicates that humans have a mating system that was neither as promiscuous as that of the chimpanzee, nor as exclusive as that of the gorilla. Therefore, sperm competition probably played a small role in the evolution of our sexual anatomy and behavior.

Aye, there’s the rub. Humans are built a certain way, and we tend to judge anything differing from our own expectations and experience to be somehow monstrous. It’s that speciesist xenophobia rearing its ugly head again. Only this time, there’s a healthy dose of loathsome residual Puritanism and perhaps even something akin to Freudian goolie-envy going on with certain of our species.

And yes, it’s an ugly fact, but we must not blink at truth: ladies, admit it, there is a small part of you that finds the whole idea of testicles marginally silly and even possibly distasteful. Poor things, having their equipment all dangling and exposed out there, looking for all the world like fishing tackle or something. Guys have an easier time of it expressing any discomfort or conflicted emotions they may feel regarding our genitalia. They even have at their disposal a Latin-based, establishment-certified term for inner loathing of girlie-parts, the deep, dark, moist and mysterious down-there of it all: misogyny. Funny how there isn’t a word provided to women for the distrust, distaste or downright disapproval of reproductive things male, isn’t it? How can we properly practice our secret inner other-loathing without one?

Be that as it may, our hung-up society has a very complicated relationship with its genitals–and anybody else’s.

But here’s what happens: you find out that male rats make particularly excellent pets. As a rule, they are more affectionate and more blessedly sedentary than their female counterparts. In other words, they are more likely than the girls are to proffer up little rattie kisses and then hunker down in your lap for a nice night together watching Hulu. The male rat’s metabolic rate more closely matches our own, whereas the females tend to rush about, trying to thrust their curious little noses into every corner of the universe when offered face-face time with the humans. If one of my girls is still, I check very closely to see if she is sick.

I LOVE my boys! Our relationship is less complicated, warmer, more fulfilling. Sure I love the girls, too; but I simply LOVE the boys, which is something altogether different, isn’t it?

And somehow, I found that along the way, I stopped worrying and learned to love the nuts. I think of them as little almonds wrapped up all warm and safe in a fur sleeping bag…and then forget about them. Like a habit or trait you might initially find foreign and irritating in a new friend, those largish oblate spheroids quickly seem absolutely normal, a given, even an endearing quality, and then they fade into the landscape. My little guys would not be who and how they are without their equipment.

And the mental image of happy little almonds snoozing away in their little fur sleeping bags makes me smile.