Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Encore Avec Le Petit Pantalon Grenouille?

Throughout most of human history, women were not expected to make a contribution to science. They were expected to make a contribution to dinner, and to reproduce prolifically, and maybe do a little light sewing. Those who did help to advance the cause of scientific inquiry labored in obscurity. This made them crabby.

Take Madame Rene Antoine Ferchault de Reaumur, for instance, without whom Monsieur Rene Antoine Ferchault de Reaumur could never have succeeded in his quest to determine what a male frog brings to the procreation table. In the early 1600s, the state of understanding about the male's role in fertilization was fluid, but murky. Some contended that an egg only was required. Others fingered the sperm. It was a popular belief that one or the other contained an entire miniature being that only needed plumping up, like a sea monkey. The so-called "spermists" believed the male sent the tiny being into the female where it began to grow; the "ovists" believed the tiny being was already in the egg to begin with. It was not understood in the latter case what the point of the semen was, unless it was just there for encouragement.

M. de Reaumur began by trying to accumulate any materials that might be required for successful fertilization, in the privacy of his own sal de bain. Ha ha! No, he used frogs. Female frogs were certainly known to produce eggs, but what did the males produce? In order to find out, he decided to outfit the little hoppers with tiny pants to contain their effluent, but he wasn't about to make them himself. Mme. de Reaumur was used to this sort of thing by now. She duly produced a series of frog trousers, one pair after the other, refining the design to accommodate her husband's complaints. The first pair was made from a pig's bladder, as requested, but the leg holes were too big, and the frog kept climbing out of them. The second pair was more form-fitting, and, inspired, she added rear pockets, which ruined the frog's line. "Taffeta, darling," her husband suggested.

"Again with the tiny frog pants?" she muttered, the third time, only in French, and trudged off for more pig bladder and taffeta while the Monsieur went back to his precious thinking room. The third and several subsequent versions were problematic because of the frogs' anatomy, with their skinny legs and plump paunch, but inasmuch as this was also typical of men's physiques at the time, she knew just what to do, and soon produced taffeta frog pants with suspenders. "Voici," she said, tightly, "and maybe Mr. Genius Fancypants Science-Boy could think about inventing Spandex some day."

M. Ferchault de Reaumur dressed his male frogs for love, and after what appeared to be a successful introduction to the gravid females, he examined the trousers for secretions, but either did not find any, or got bored and wandered off to piddle around with geometry; in any case he did not report his findings.

After the divorce, M. de Reaumur began new experiments with frogs, butter, parsley, and lemon, and the Mme. provided for herself nicely in her new career designing loungewear for the King's hamsters.

29 comments:

  1. Oh, Murr.... Your way with the right phrase cracks me up! "...The male's role in fertilization was fluid, but murky." *Snicker* Don't forget sticky!

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  2. Leave it to the French to worry about this stuff. I wonder if sex is enjoyable for frogs or if they just do it because it is expected of them?

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    1. Speaking as a professional frog wrangler, I will say that the males come down the hill to the pond first, and they're in a dang hurry. The females plop down later, jammed with eggs, and looking a little uncomfortable. I don't know if they get anything out of it except having their eggs squoze out.

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  3. The thing that amazed me is that M. Reaumur really did exist! Apparently he published a 6-volume work on the location of various insects, and lived to be 74 years old. Murr, where do you find these people? :)

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    1. I don't care if it's true or not--it's really funny!!

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    2. Oh yes. It's true: http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/frog-pants-reproduction-experiment

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    3. Have I ever lied to you? At worst, I embroider the truth.

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  4. Each time I am reminded of the roles a 'traditional wife' was expected to fill I am glad those days have gone. On my worse days I would like a wife, but I couldn't fill the position myself. And my poor sewing is a very small part of the equation.

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    1. I remember back in the good ol' days of Women's Lib that someone (Steinem? Greer?) wrote an essay about wanting a wife, and then described her: free cook, launderer, housecleaner, etc. It was an a-ha moment.

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  5. The title gripped me from the start.In my head, it was Fashion Week with natty frogs on the catwalk...

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    1. They can't manage the high heels at all.

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  6. I can only hope that it was my post from Atlas Obscura that inspired your article! Man, I just howled at "taffeta"!

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    1. Yes, and thanks! And I did NOT make up the taffeta!!!

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  7. I'm sure I'm not even getting half of the "in" jokes here, and it's STILL hilarious :)

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    1. Every now and then I don't get my own. Someone else will point them out.

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  8. I could furnish for Madame a few choice words with which to respond to Monsieur's 'suggestions.'

    I come here for the hilarity and am seldom disappointed.

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    1. Huh. And here I thought you wanted to get published in the Journal of Irreproducible Results.....

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  9. You've left me high and dry here Murr. Who was it that finally figured out the connection between egg and sperm? Or did I miss a line in the story?

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    1. It was a realization slow in coming. But a fellow named Lazzaro Spallanzani replicated the tiny frog pants experiment in the 18th century and demonstrated that trousered frogs do not successfully fertilize females, and thus both egg and sperm are required. There were a few other people coming to the same conclusion at the time, without frog pants.

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  10. Everyone knows that organza is a better choice for frog pants.

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  11. they used lambskin for condoms in those days. A scotsman walked into a french apothecary with a very battered "preventive" and asked that it be repaired. The apothecary inspected it and said, "This is going to take a lot of work. I'll have to charge two francs to repair it. I could sell you a new one for 3 francs." The scotsman said, "Ah, this'll take consideration." He retrieved the item and walked out. Two days later he returned, dropped it on the counter and reported, "The regiment voted Repair ir."

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    1. Seriously? No more mildly offensive jokes? Was it the dissing the Scots part, or the "Eeww" part?

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  12. I've long suspected that Madame RĂ©aumur was responsible for the sans culottes group involved in the French revolution.......

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