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Sophie J
2448.  Mon Dec 01, 2003 11:54 am Reply with quote

The barnacle so far appears to win the longest penis award (relative to its size) beating both armadillos and European mayfly.

Most barnacles are hermaphrodites. When one barnacle decides to 'be mother' it lays eggs inside its shell and at the same time release a specific pheromone. A nearby hermaphrodite barnacle will respond by taking the form of the male and fertilising the eggs. It does this by extending its penis towards the 'female' and injecting sperm into the little hole at the top of the barnacle. The male can eject sperm into the cavity of a female up to seven shell diameters away; i.e. its penis can be seven times the length of its body.

s: EBR

Sophie J
2449.  Mon Dec 01, 2003 12:09 pm Reply with quote

They also stand on their heads and eat with their feet.

They stick their long, feathery legs out of the hole in the shell and catch small plants and animals drifting past, dragging them back into their shell.

This hole should not be thought of as at the 'top' of the shell; it's the bottom of it. The barnacle's head (the actual top of the shell) is stuck down to whatever it has attached itself to.

2524.  Tue Dec 02, 2003 3:18 am Reply with quote

Now the interesting thing about barnacles (apart from their parts) is that Charles Darwin spent EIGHT YEARS studying them and wrote a four volume monograph on the subject. It was this meticulous study of detail that gave him the scientific credibility to shake things up later with the Origin of Species.


2531.  Tue Dec 02, 2003 4:00 am Reply with quote

Barnacles are named after barnacle geese, and not the other way around.

They were once thought to be the larvae (or embryos) from which the geese were born, and to grow on trees.

s: OED

Sophie J
2540.  Tue Dec 02, 2003 6:20 am Reply with quote

'Tis true. On the west coast of Britain during the Middle Ages, a lot of driftwood would be washed ashore during autumn gales, and this driftwood would be covered in barnacles. At the same time of year geese would appear. We now know that the geese would fly in from their summer residence north of the Arctic Circle, but at the time nobody knew this and couldn't understand why the geese were never seen breeding - they would just appear. The myth therefore arose that the barnacles stuck to the wood were developing geese. They even thought that the feathery things sticking out of the top of the barnacles were goose feathers, when they were in fact barnacle legs.

One of the repercussions of this was that geese could be eaten on fasting days, at they were thought to be shellfish.

It seems that barnacles weren't actuallly called barnacles until the 15th century.


Sophie J
2541.  Tue Dec 02, 2003 6:23 am Reply with quote

Despite all the help barnacles gave to Darwin he wasn't very kind about them - he called them "vile molluscous creatures".

s: the Encyclopaedia of Animal Ecology and Evolution

2552.  Tue Dec 02, 2003 7:20 am Reply with quote

One of the repercussions of this was that geese could be eaten on fasting days, at they were thought to be shellfish.

Which ties us back to the beaver thread - hoorah!

2611.  Tue Dec 02, 2003 7:50 pm Reply with quote

That's a wonderful link and entirely typical of how, when QI gets up a head of steam the most unlikely things knit together.

Looking further into the etymology of 'barnacle' there is one theory that actually derives the word from the Latin for the Irish goose, Hiberniculae (which was worn down to bernaca , barnacle goose). As Ms Sophie says, the word isn't applied to the shellfish until 1581.

s: CWH

2612.  Tue Dec 02, 2003 7:56 pm Reply with quote

Barnacle has a rich slang life - in 1811 it could mean: 'a good job', 'a snack easily got', a pair of pincers to fix on the nose of vicious horses while shoeing, a nickname fpr spectacles or the tip given to a groom by the buyers and sellers of horses.

s: DVT 1811

2614.  Tue Dec 02, 2003 8:59 pm Reply with quote


is a terrific etymology. i've been wondering about that...

Sophie J
2830.  Fri Dec 05, 2003 7:57 am Reply with quote

Where would you find ‘dwarf males’ and ‘complemental males’?

Nestling inside a barnacle. Although most barnacles are hermaphrodites, some have evolved to be a specific sex. Where this is the case, a male cyprid ( a baby barnacle that’s not yet classed as a barnacle) will seek out a female (grown up) barnacle and settle on her. This settling triggers a metamorphosis that changes the cyprid into a barnacle BUT a barnacle with only one purpose – to fertilise the female. Over time they have adapted so well to this job that some ‘dwarf’ or ‘complemental’ males are nothing more than a couple of barnacle testicles that can feed.

It was Darwin who gave these males their names: ‘dwarf’ when the male settles on a female with no male organs and ‘complemental’ when the male settles on a hermaphrodite.

s: EBR

2934.  Mon Dec 08, 2003 3:16 pm Reply with quote

The Right whale is so called because it was the 'right' whale to hunt.

It is easily recognised at sea by a distinctive clump of protrusions on its head in front of the blow-hole – known by old-tyme whalers as the bonnet – which give it a strangely crocodilian silhouette when floating in the water.

The 'bonnet' of the Right whale is not only unique to the species, but is as different on every individual as a fingerprint. No one knows what the purpose of the bonnet is.

I mention it here because these 'callosities' are infested with whale lice, parasitic worms and barnacles.

They are rough enough to cause skin abrasions from jostling and head-butting activity during mating – the whale equivalent of getting carpet-burn on the elbows.

s: EMA1

Last edited by JumpingJack on Tue Dec 09, 2003 1:09 am; edited 1 time in total

2948.  Tue Dec 09, 2003 12:57 am Reply with quote

On all other whales, barnacles are much more evenly distributed. Gray Whales are probably the most be-barnacled of all ceteceans, being evenly encrusted from head to toe in what looks like a hideous rash of excema scabs (or what my source describes as 'a world of tiny bejewelled grottoes').

Around the barnacles live whale lice, pale spidery creatures about an inch long.

Grey whales are such rich pastures for barnacles and lice that one species of barnacle (and three of whale lice) are found nowhere else in nature.

Grey Whales have the longest known migration distance of any mammal – they swim 12,500 miles (20,400 km) a year from the subtropics to the Arctic and back again.


Last edited by JumpingJack on Tue Dec 09, 2003 1:21 am; edited 1 time in total

2949.  Tue Dec 09, 2003 1:20 am Reply with quote

Bowhead whales are mercifully free of callosities, but they have enormous heads which take up 40% of their body length, making them look a bit like Michael Portillo.

Alaskan Eskimos have been hunting Bowhead whales for thousands of years using harpoons tipped with ivory or stone, and sealskin floats. Today they use grenades*.


*"Grenade-tipped darting guns"

2950.  Tue Dec 09, 2003 1:26 am Reply with quote

For neatness' sake, here's a barnacle factoid repeated from the 'B Words string.

Unlike English, French has a slightly different word for 'barnacle' and 'barnacle goose' viz:

barnacle goose

bernicle n



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