The term “fitness” congers images of six-pack abs, yoga poses, and 90’s spandex leotards (for me, anyway). But those images can be misleading when it comes to understanding evolutionary fitness.
Good “fitness” in evolution means “a good fit.” Organisms that fit well in their environmental niche spend less energy just trying to survive; they have more energy left over for reproduction. So fitness is often measured by the number of offspring produced.
A sloth is well camouflaged with its slo-mo movement. Many predators detect prey by movement (if we stick with the 90’s imagery, remember the T.rex in Jurassic Park “can’t see us if we don’t move”). Low metabolism in sloths means very low food requirements. One study measured sloth metabolic rate at 174 kJ (kilajoules) per day. (1) Just for comparison, an average human requires 6000-7000 kJ per day.
Nagy, KA and GG Montgomery. 1980. Field metabolic rate, water flux, and food consumption in three-toed sloths (Bradypus variegatus). Journal of Mammalogy 61(3)465-472
Carnivores have ‘em. Rodents and bats have ‘em. Even many primates have ‘em. But not humans.
The baculum (penis bone) is one of the most variable bones in the mammalian skeleton – you can even ID an animal by the shape and size of that one bone. Just like with insect penises, the shapes of these reproductive structures can change quickly in evolutionary terms (Carl Zimmer writes a wonderful post looking at these shifts)
What’s its function?
Well, we’re not 100% sure yet. It may allow males to copulate before being fully, ahem, at attention. Or it may stimulate the female to ovulate. Some bacula grow spiny projections which may, like some insect penises, clear out other sperm before injecting one’s own.
Let’s not leave out the girls!
The penis and clitoris develop from the same structure. So, if the penis has a bone… does the clitoris? You bet! It’s called the os clitoridis (or baubellum).