It is safer to transport a rhinoceros upside-down, and beards may be an evolutionary development to help protect men's faces from punches, according to scientific studies that won Ig Nobel prizes.

An annual honour for unusual accomplishments in science and the humanities that aim to make you laugh and then think, the Ig Nobels are presented by Nobel laureates and are usually held at Harvard University's Sanders Theatre. This is the second year the spoof awards have been issued online.

This year, each winner was given a paper trophy to assemble themselves and a counterfeit Zimbabwean $10 trillion note, in line with the light-hearted nature of the satirical prize. A choral meditation on how bridges bring people together was interspersed between the presentations.

"The thing I love about wildlife veterinarians is you guys have to really think on your feet and think outside the box," said Robin Radcliffe, one of the authors of the African study that concluded rhinoceroses are more safely transported on their backs. "You have to be a genius and creative and sometimes even a little bit crazy to move rhinos this way."

The findings that people may have begun growing beards to help cushion the impact of blows was accorded the peace prize. Chewing gum, orgasms and cats' meows were some of the other topics of research awarded Ig Nobels.

Susanne Schotz from Sweden won the biology prize for analysing variations in "purring, chirping, chattering, trilling, tweedling, murmuring, meowing, moaning, squeaking, hissing, yowling, howling, growling, and other modes of cat–human communication" and even demonstrated some of the noises she had studied.

The ecology prize was given to a group of scientists studying bacteria in wads of chewing gum discarded on pavements all over the world, and the medicine prize was awarded to research that demonstrated orgasms can be as effective as medication in clearing congested noses.

Marc Abrahams, master of ceremonies and editor of the Annals of Improbable Research magazine, which produces the event, had the last word after the show.

"If you didn't win an Ig Nobel prize this year, and especially if you did, better luck next year," he said.