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9 Bizarre Bird Mating Rituals

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Bees do it, and birds definitely do it—in all kinds of crazy ways. Here are nine birds and their mating rituals.

1. Frigatebird

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Male frigatebirds have red kidney-shaped pouches on their chests that they inflate like balloons to attract girls. During mating season, the male sits on a nest and gyrates his puffed-up chest at the females flying overhead. When a female sees a male she likes, she lands beside him. However, copulation is often interrupted when other jealous males jump on the chosen partner and try to puncture his red balloon.

2. Flamingo

When choosing a mate, flamingos dance in a big group. They stretch their necks and flip their heads back and forth while taking tiny, mincing steps. Then they break off in pairs to breed. It’s pretty much the greatest thing ever.

3. Duck

Wild with Pants

Ducks have a reputation for being monogamous, but the reality is more gruesome, as the females are often gang raped by the males. This behavior is so ingrained in ducks that the female's oviduct (vagina) has sacs and dead ends that can hold and expel unwanted sperm. Scientists theorize that she can unblock her oviduct if so inclined, meaning that she usually ends up with the desired drake's ducklings.

Incidentally, the Argentine Lake Duck has the longest bird penis, which is corkscrew shaped and 17 inches long.

4. Emperor Penguin

This mating ritual of the Emperor Penguin starts miles apart. The males and females walk 30 to 70 miles to inland Antarctica and meet at a breeding site. Then they stand in a crowd and the males “bugle” for the females, who recognize their mates’ voices. They take a waddle around the group, bow deeply to one another, nuzzle, and make loving noises before mating.

5. White-Fronted Parrot

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White-Fronted Parrots kiss by putting their beaks together and touching each other’s tongues. Then the male vomits into the female’s mouth. To the female, this is a tasty treat that gets her in the mood.

6. Hedge Sparrow

Science isn't Everything

The Hedge Sparrow is monogamous—mostly. The female will sometimes keep a second male on hand, who lurks in the bushes waiting for her mate to turn his back. When he does, she lets him copulate with her, a process that’s more like a bumping of genitals. Then things get weird: When the first mate comes back, she displays herself to him and he pokes at her genitals until the other male’s sperm spurts out. Then the two birds have sex, ensuring that it’s (probably) her mate’s egg in the nest. Why do this? Both the mate and the misinformed adulterer will help the female feed the chicks.

7. Albatross

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Albatrosses start out with mutual grooming, each tenderly preening the other bird's feathers. Then they launch into a mating dance where they alternate between tapping their beaks, opening their mouths, and looking at the ground. To a casual observer, it looks like the birds are jousting, their beaks rattling together like castanets.

8. Blue Manakin

Not all males compete against each other for mates. In the case of the Blue Manakin, an alpha male forms a team of birds to help him attract females. When an interested female appears, the team begins flying around her, flapping their wings and making a buzzing noise while she looks on in awe. The alpha bird stops the acrobatics with a commanding call and, if the female liked the show, she’ll mate with him. The other males don’t get much out of this arrangement, except to compete for the alpha’s place if something happens to him.

9. Grebe

Grebes, a kind of water bird, perform a bird version of ballet before mating. They start out mimicking each other’s movements and then rise out of the water and run along its surface, flapping their short wings and tripping along in perfect unison. At the end, they dive under the water and come up with grass from the bottom as if to say, "Here is what we will use to make our nest."

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Big Questions
Do Cats Fart?
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Certain philosophical questions can invade even the most disciplined of minds. Do aliens exist? Can a soul ever be measured? Do cats fart?

While the latter may not have weighed heavily on some of history’s great brains, it’s certainly no less deserving of an answer. And in contrast to existential queries, there’s a pretty definitive response: Yes, they do. We just don’t really hear it.

According to veterinarians who have realized their job sometimes involves answering inane questions about animals passing gas, cats have all the biological hardware necessary for a fart: a gastrointestinal system and an anus. When excess air builds up as a result of gulping breaths or gut bacteria, a pungent cloud will be released from their rear ends. Smell a kitten’s butt sometime and you’ll walk away convinced that cats fart.

The discretion, or lack of audible farts, is probably due to the fact that cats don’t gulp their food like dogs do, leading to less air accumulating in their digestive tract.

So, yes, cats do fart. But they do it with the same grace and stealth they use to approach everything else. Think about that the next time you blame the dog.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Animals
Squirrels Are Probably More Organized Than You, Study Finds
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Despite having a brain that's slightly bigger than the size of a peanut M&M, squirrels have a fascinating, razor-sharp instinct when it comes to survival. They know that acorns that are high in fat and sprout late are perfect for long-term storage, so they salvage them for winter and eat the less nutritionally dense white-oak acorns right away. They also tend to remember where they put their acorn stash rather than relying solely on smell. Like nature's perfect stunt performer, they can even fall out of trees in a way that minimizes physical damage. Now, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have unveiled a newly discovered part of a squirrel's hoarding strategy, Atlas Obscura reports.

The researchers tracked 45 wild fox squirrels on the UC-Berkeley campus for nearly two years. They made available to the squirrels four different types of nuts—walnuts, pecans, almonds, and hazelnuts. Sometimes the animals were given a single type of nut, and other times the nuts were mixed. Either way, the squirrels promptly sorted and stored their food according to type—walnuts went in one hiding place, almonds in another, and so on.

This type of behavior is known as "chunking" and makes it easier to retrieve data in memory. In doing this, a squirrel won't have to visit several different places looking for pecans: They know just where the main supply is. Squirrels can stockpile up to 10,000 nuts a year, so it's essential for them to know which type of nut is where.

The study, published in Royal Society Open Science, also indicated that squirrels seem to understand nuts have weight, choosing to carry heavier acquisitions to a different location than lighter nuts.

Squirrels being squirrels, they were happy to be gifted an assortment of nuts during the experiment, but there was one wrinkle: Rather than stash them away, sometimes they'd just eat them on the spot.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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