Do not sneak a dolphin vagina past this man. Credit: Joe Raedle / Staff / Getty

We don’t give scientists enough credit for being weird. We’re always thinking of them noodling over foaming beakers when they’re actually out in the wilderness milking Antarctic fur seals and grappling with tailless whip scorpions. Given that they’re tasked with transporting their findings around the world, scientists are bound to have some interesting stories of moving through security at the airport.

The Atlantic’s Ed Yong put out a call on Twitter for such stories and hit the motherlode. In a recent piece, Yong shares some of those stories, which encompass everything from dinosaur bones and monkey pee to a 3-D-printed model of a mouse penis. The latter belonged to the University of Florida’s Martin Cohn, who studies genital and urinary tracts. As such, a mouse penis isn’t even the weirdest thing he, or anyone else studying genitals, has brought through security.

In previous years, Cohn has flown with the shin bone of a giant ground sloth and a cooler full of turtle embryos. Just last month, Diane Kelly from the University of Massachusetts, who studies the evolution of animal genitals, was stopped by the TSA because she was carrying what is roughly the opposite of Cohn’s item: a 3-D-printed mold of a dolphin vagina. “Technically it’s not even my dolphin vagina mold,” she says. “I was carrying it for someone.”

Yong’s Twitter replies are filled with some pretty amazing anecdotes as well, making it clear that scientists are as much amused by this unique part of their jobs as they are annoyed by it.


Surprisingly, TSA agents aren’t total dicks about it. More often than not, they’re genuinely interested in learning about whatever weird shit is setting off alarms. There might be no funnier image than that of “four assembled TSA agents … quizzing [Cohn] about his mouse penis.”