Skip to main content

Apparently This Matters: World's oldest sperm is huge

Here is what really old shrimp sperm looks like after 17 million years. Good times.
Here is what really old shrimp sperm looks like after 17 million years. Good times.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Scientists have discovered ancient sperm that is 17 million years old
  • The sperm is from ostracods, which are tiny shrimp
  • Bat poop is credited for preserving the sperm

Editor's note: Each week in "Apparently This Matters," CNN's Jarrett Bellini applies his warped sensibilities to trending topics in social media and random items of interest on the Web.

(CNN) -- Brace yourselves, because this week's story is about sperm and poop.

Specifically, though, it's about how scientists recently discovered the world's oldest sperm, which had been almost perfectly preserved for 17 million years under tons of bat poop.

And you thought putting all your old baseball cards in plastic sleeves was the answer?

Nope. Bat poop.

Naturally, we have to ask ourselves: Whose sperm was it?

\
"Apparently This Matters" Is Jarrett Bellini's weekly (and somewhat random) look at social-media trends.

Turns out, the ancient, petrified sperm was actually found inside both male and female shrimp. Which suggests that, just prior to their death, several of these things were distracted from their impending doom while gleefully making poor life decisions.

"More wine?"

Really, it's not a bad way to go out. We should all be so lucky.

Though, to be honest, I didn't even know shrimp did that. Have shrimp sex. I guess I always just chalked up their delicious existence to magic, with late-stage assistance from the seafood guy at Publix.

But, apparently, shrimp do, in fact, have sex with each other, and, under the right circumstances, their sperm can be fossilized for millions of years with the help of bat poop.

Some people prefer to be technical and call it "bat guano," but these individuals clearly don't appreciate the structural beauty of the word "poop."

For crying out loud it as two O's book-ended by the letter P.

So, here, we're calling it poop. It's a damn fine word.

That said, where, exactly, does one find tons of bat poop and ancient 17 million-year-old shrimp sperm?

\
"Move it, Dave! I got shrimp things to do."

Apparently, you'll find them on the walls of cave.

This particular story goes all the way back to 1988, for it was then that a team of researchers, led by Mike Archer of the University of New South Wales, began excavating vertebrate fossils from a cave in Queensland, Australia known as the Riversleigh World Heritage Fossil Site.

It seems that once you got beyond the poop (soon to be the title of my seven-page autobiography detailing all of my life's achievements), there was lots of science inside the cave.

The researchers then used special acid to unpoop their fossils, and the remaining sediment was later added to the collections of the Queensland Museum.

You know, for sediment buffs.

Then, in 2009, a retired palaeontologist named John Neil borrowed a kilo of that sediment from the museum. Because I guess that's just what you do when you're a retired palaeontologist and you've seen every re-run of "Matlock."

You get bored and start looking at things under a microscope.

"So, uh, find anything in that Oreo?"

But Neil was fascinated by what he saw inside the sediment -- more than 800 ostracods.

Ostracods, better known as seed shrimp or mussel shrimp, don't actually resemble the shrimp we are accustomed to eating from the supermarket. The ones Neil discovered were super tiny, and better resemble, perhaps, something more like a bed bug.

When he got stuck trying to analyze the "soft parts," Neil later contacted a specialist at Ludwig-Maximilian University of Munich named Renate Matzke-Karasz.

And that's when they discovered all the sperm.

And it was HUGE! Seriously. These things were ridiculous.

Even in diagram form, tiny shrimp are kinda cute. Look, it has a little eye!
Even in diagram form, tiny shrimp are kinda cute. Look, it has a little eye!

Uncoiled, each sperm was roughly the same length as the actual shrimp.

So, if you applied the same scale to the sperm of humans or, say, elephants, you'd have something to be genuinely afraid of -- like the plot of some terrible Will Smith action movie.

Coming soon: "Men in Latex."

On Wednesday, all of the researchers, together, published their study in the journal Proceedings of The Royal Society B. And when the world learned that there was 17 million-year-old sperm out there, naturally, we all got rather excited.

And the fact that there was poop involved pretty much made it the best day ever.

So, it's an absolutely amazing discovery.

And the real lesson here is that if you think you're on the edge of being killed and possibly fossilized, and if you happen to have large quantities of bat poop, you might as well start having sex so you can leave something for our alien overlords to discover 17 million years from now.

"More wine?"

Follow @JarrettBellini on Twitter.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Apparently This Matters...
updated 11:28 AM EDT, Sat August 23, 2014
We all have weird, irrational concerns.
updated 10:25 PM EDT, Sun August 17, 2014
"What does this thing do?"
updated 1:48 PM EDT, Fri August 8, 2014
Despite all the political tension in Crimea, it's nice to know things are still safe enough at the zoo for a zebra to get it on with a donkey.
updated 9:41 PM EDT, Fri August 1, 2014
Justin Sylvester's wife is pregnant. With a baby.
updated 8:10 PM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
There's a famous scene in the movie "Titanic" where Rose turns to Jack and says, "I want you to draw me like one of your French girls."
updated 4:15 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
For several months in 2003, I did the whole European backpacker thing. Which is to say I've seen nearly every cathedral within 1,000 square miles of the Danube.
updated 3:17 PM EDT, Fri July 11, 2014
The other day I saw a death metal band hanging out by their tour van in the parking lot behind a club. They were all dressed in black, and may or may not have been working on lyrics to a new song about fire and lamb meat.
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
There are two good reasons to own a giant trampoline.
updated 6:51 PM EDT, Fri June 13, 2014
I would love to say my dog is intellectually qualified to be a service animal. But he's not. There's barely enough brainpower there to be a lamp.
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Sun June 8, 2014
I've never really needed an extra ear.
updated 4:32 PM EDT, Wed June 4, 2014
I never actually caught a glimpse of the Tooth Fairy when I was young, but she was definitely real and in cahoots with my mom. This, due to the fact that I never woke up to find a Nintendo.
updated 3:57 PM EDT, Fri May 23, 2014
Have you ever seen a man running in a marathon, bleeding from his nipples?
updated 3:52 PM EDT, Fri May 16, 2014
Brace yourselves, because this week's story is about sperm and poop.
updated 5:25 PM EDT, Fri May 9, 2014
I once stayed at a youth hostel in Copenhagen called Sleep in Heaven. Which sounds quite pleasant until you realize that, apparently, heaven is cold and damp and completely infested with bedbugs.
updated 10:43 AM EDT, Sun May 4, 2014
I'm not a violent man. Short, self-doubting gingers tend not to be the fiercest of creatures.
updated 9:32 AM EDT, Tue April 29, 2014
For a long time it feels like we haven't seen much of Ronald McDonald. Not for nothing, but I heard he shanked Grimace in a back alley somewhere down in Mexico.
updated 12:44 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
I haven't had a single Diet Coke in 2014. It was a conscious health decision, and the only real side effect, now, is that the world is awful and I hate everything.
updated 5:20 PM EDT, Fri April 4, 2014
The art of preparing, stuffing, and mounting animal skins is called taxidermy, and it can range from classy to creepy depending on whether your subject is a moose, or, say, a homeless drifter.
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Thu May 1, 2014
The July 21, 1969, headline of the New York Times read, "MEN WALK ON MOON."
updated 12:55 PM EDT, Tue March 25, 2014
I once uploaded an Instagram of me at Old Navy trying to get all kissy-face with a mannequin. At the time it seemed like a good idea, but she was rather unresponsive.
updated 5:13 PM EST, Fri March 7, 2014
I use a Keurig coffee machine at home because I'm lazy. And, quite frankly, don't feel like I've really done my duty to God and country until I've added a little something to the landfill.
updated 1:38 PM EST, Fri February 28, 2014
I wouldn't necessarily call myself a true germaphobe, but if entering a domestic partnership with a bottle of Purell were legal I'd certainly consider it.
ADVERTISEMENT