The mother-lode! (Deposit your own sperm jokes in the comment section below.)
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The oldest petrified sperm ever discovered is gargantuan, at least for a gamete.
The sperm comes from the early Miocene epoch, between about 23 million and 16 million years ago, and belonged to a tiny crustacean called a seed shrimp or ostracod. Seed shrimp are bivalves like muscles, but sport tiny appendages that make them look like walking beans. Though they measure just millimeters long, their sperm often reaches more than 0.4 inches (1 centimeter) in length.
The new fossilized sperm comes from an ancient cave deposit in Australia, where bat guano falling into the water may have helped preserve the cells.
“We can distinguish the typical helical organization of the organelles in the sperm cell, which makes its surface look like a hawser or cable,” study researcher Renate Matzke-Karasz, a geobiologist at Ludwig-Maximilian-University in Germany, said in a statement.