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9 Bizarre Bird Mating Rituals

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ThinkStock

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

1. Frigatebird

Wikimedia Commons

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

Wikimedia Commons

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

Wikimedia Commons

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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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Opening Ceremony
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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

501069-OpeningCeremony2.jpg

Opening Ceremony

To this:

501069-OpeningCeremony3.jpg

Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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