The Story of Siwash, the Beer-Drinking Duck Who Joined the Marines

iStock.com/SoopySue
iStock.com/SoopySue

The Battle of Tarawa, fought in November 1943, was a bloody Pacific offensive that led to the deaths of more than 6000 people. One of the toughest American campaigns in the central Pacific, it was an all-hands-on-deck sort of operation—one that involved 18,000 Marines and exactly one beer-guzzling duck.

"Siwash" the duck was one of the most colorful animals ever used by the military. The duck unofficially joined the United States Marine Corps in 1943 after Sergeant Francis "Pappy" Fagan won her in a raffle (some accounts say a poker tournament) at a tavern in New Zealand. Afterward, Siwash would accompany Fagan everywhere he went and quickly became the 2nd Marine Division's unofficial mascot.

The soldiers loved feeding her beer. "Siwash just can't pass up a free drink," Fagan told the United Press. "A long one and a short one is her limit but she doesn't know it. She won't touch draft beer though. And it's got to be warm beer, the way it was in New Zealand."

Her drinking prowess aside, Siwash's bravery was also much admired by Fagan's fellow Marines, who claimed the duck would "jump in a foxhole the minute the Marines leap," according to the AP. As Colonel Presley M. Rixey joked to the Chicago Tribune in 1944, "We value him too much to have to eat him … Besides, we have no sliced oranges to serve with him." (Most of the soldiers assumed Siwash was a drake, or he-duck, although she later surprised them by laying an egg.)

During the Battle of Tarawa, Siwash truly proved she had the stuff to be a Marine. With bullets and bombs flying, the Marines stormed the beach and the duck followed—and the moment her webbed feet hit the sand she began looking for trouble. Immediately, Siwash locked eyes on a Japanese chicken and ran in pursuit. The birds began to engage in combat. Siwash took a few hard knocks to the noggin, but kept fighting until, according to most accounts, she defeated the enemy foul. As Fagan told the AP in 1944, "The rooster didn't have a chance."

After the battle, talk spread of giving Siwash a Purple Heart. In the end, she was awarded this citation:

For courageous action and wounds received on Tarawa, in the Gilbert Islands, November 1943. With utter disregard for his own personal safety, Siwash, upon reaching the beach, without hesitation engaged the enemy in fierce combat, namely, one rooster of Japanese ancestry, and though wounded on the head by repeated pecks, he soon routed the opposition. He refused medical aid until all wounded members of his section had been taken care of.

Tarawa wouldn't be Siwash's last rodeo. She was present for two more major Pacific operations: the Battle of Saipan and the Battle of Tinian. During the former, she kept watch from the boat. But at Tinian, Siwash "hit the beach on D-Day and personally captured a tiny Jap duck," TIME reported in 1944.

Later that same year Sergeant Siwash returned to the United States and was given a hero's welcome, which included two radio broadcast appearances, a luncheon in her honor, and all the beer she pleased. Harnessing the duck's fame, Fagan and Siwash went on to travel and promote the sale of war bonds. After World War II, Siwash took up residence at Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo, where she stayed until her death (of liver problems) in 1954. Her body was stuffed and presented to the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, Virginia.

Decades later, in 1980, Fagan would confess at a retirement party that Siwash might not have been as brave as he originally let on. "Actually, the chicken chased the hell out of her," he admitted. But Fagan, it appears, was clever enough to know that he shouldn't let the truth get in the way of a good story.

After all, Siwash was no chicken.

Why Do Bats Hang Upside Down?

iStock.com/CraigRJD
iStock.com/CraigRJD

Stefan Pociask:

The age-old question of upside down bats. Yes, it is awfully weird that there is an animal—a mammal even—that hangs upside down. Sure, some monkeys do it when they're just monkeying around. And a few other tree climbers, like margays, hang upside down if they are reaching for something or—again, like the margay cat—may actually even hunt that way ... But bats are the only animals that actually spend most of their time hanging upside down: feeding this way, raising their young this way, and, yes, sleeping or roosting this way.

There is actually a very good and sensible reason why they do this: They have to hang upside down so that they can fly.

First off, we have to acknowledge that bats are not birds, nor are they insects. These are the other two animals that have true powered flight (as opposed to gliding). The difference between bat flight and bird or insect flight is weight—specifically, the ratio of weight to lift-capacity of the wings. If you walk up to a bird or insect, most species will be able to fly right up into the air from a motionless position, and do it quickly.

Bats, on the other hand (or, other wing), can’t do that. They have a lot of difficulty taking off from the ground (not that they can’t do it ... it’s just more difficult). Insects and birds often actually jump into the air to give them a start in the right direction, then their powerful wings take them up, up, and away.

Birds have hollow bones; bats don’t. Insects are made of lightweight chitin or soft, light tissue; bats aren’t. And bats don’t have what you could call "powerful" wings. These amazing creatures are mammals, after all. The only flying mammals. Nature found a way to evolve such an unlikely thing as a flying mammal, so some compromises had to be made. Bats, once airborne, manage perfectly well in the air, and can literally fly circles around most birds in flight. The problem is in first getting off the ground.

To compensate for the extra weight that mammals must have, to compensate for the problem of getting off the ground, evolution found another way for bats to transition from being motionless to immediately being able to fly when necessary. Evolution said, “How about if we drop them from above? That way they are immediately in the air, and all they need to do is start flapping."

It was a great idea, as it turns out. Except bat feet aren’t any good for perching on a branch. They are mammals, not birds, so their musculature, their bones, and their tendons are set up in a completely different way. When a bird squats down on a branch, their tendons actually lock their toes into an even tighter grip on the perch. It happens automatically. That’s part of being a bird, and is universal. That’s why they don’t fall off in their sleep.

Bats, as mammals, are set up differently. Therefore, to compensate for that fact, nature said, “How about if we have them hang upside down? That way, their tendons will actually pull their toes closed, just like a bird does from the opposite direction.” So that’s what evolved. Bats hang from the bottom of something, and all they have to do is "let go" and they are instantly flying. In fact, with this gravity-assist method, they can achieve instant flight even faster than birds, who have to work against gravity.

Side note: In case you were wondering how bats poop and pee while upside down ... First off, pooping is no big deal. Bat poop looks like tiny grains of rice; if they are hanging, it just falls to the floor of the bat cave as guano. Pee, however ... well, they have that covered too. They just “hold it” until they are flying.

So there you go. Bats sleep hanging upside down because they are mammals and can’t take off into the air like birds can (at least not without difficulty). But, if they're hanging, all they do is let go.

Makes total sense, right?

Now, having said all that about upside down bats, I must mention the following: Not all of the 1240-plus species of bats do hang upside down. There are exceptions—about six of them, within two different families. One is in South America (Thyropteridae) and the other is in Madagascar (Myzopodidae). The Myzopodidae, which includes just one species, is exceedingly rare.

So it turns out that these bats roost inside the tubes of young, unfurled banana leaves and other similar large leaves. When they attach themselves to the inside of this rolled leaf, they do it head-up. The problem with living inside of rolled-up leaves is that within a few days, these leaves will continue growing, and eventually open up. Whenever that happens, the whole group of bats has to pick up and move to another home. Over and over again. All six of these species of rare bats have a suction cup on each wrist and ankle, and they use these to attach to the smooth surface of the inside of the leaf tube. Evolution: the more you learn, the more amazing it becomes.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

Sorry, But Last Month's Polar Vortex Didn't Wipe Out 95 Percent of Stink Bugs

iStock.com/drnadig
iStock.com/drnadig

In the wake of the polar vortex that brought bone-chilling temperatures to the Midwest and Northeast U.S. last month, a silver lining appeared to emerge. Multiple media outlets recently reported that the weather phenomenon may have wiped out as many as 95 percent of brown marmorated stink bugs in areas that weren't accustomed to such frigid conditions.

Unless you like having your home smell like the musky, burnt-cilantro scent of squished stink bugs, we have some bad news: Those reports are not entirely accurate. According to KDKA Radio in Pittsburgh, the Virginia Tech lab experiment that has been widely cited in these articles is a little outdated, having been conducted in 2014.

At the time, it appeared to be a promising find. Researchers from the university had collected stink bugs, placed them in insulated buckets, and waited to see if they'd survive a particularly cold spell. Even though the insects were in a dormant state called diapause, 95 percent of them died when a polar vortex hit the region. That led entomology professor Thomas Kuhar to tell The Washington Post in 2014 that “there should be significant mortality of BMSB (brown marmorated stink bugs) and many other overwinter insects this year."

However, in an email to Mental Floss, Kuhar says the rehashing of "some media misquotes from 2014" led to these too-good-to-be-true reports being recirculated this week. "There is no new research on this topic," he writes. Furthermore, the lab experiment can't easily be applied to real-life scenarios because stink bugs tend to seek shelter during the winter. "Severe sub-freezing temperatures will negatively impact winter survival of these stink bugs if they were unable to find suitable shelter such as inside of houses and sheds," he writes.

These sentiments were echoed by entomologist Chad Gore of Ehrlich Pest Control, who spoke with KDKA Radio. "When they can find that shelter, they can survive the winter. Those that are exposed, they will freeze and we won’t have to worry about them," he said.

But is there still a chance we will see fewer stink bugs in the spring? Gore says don't count on it. "I’d love to be able to reassure everybody and say that 95 percent of all of our stink bugs are going to be gone, but that’s just not going to be the case," he said. "We’re still going to see them."

Even though stink bugs don't bite and are basically harmless (though they sometimes trigger allergic reactions), they can be difficult to trap once they've found a way into one's house. The invasive species is also harmful to crops—especially grapes—and sometimes end up getting pulverized and fermented in red wine. Suffice it to say, a lot of people would be happy if the pests suddenly disappeared. For now, though, we'll have to keep on dreaming.

[h/t KDKA Radio]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER