A Pair of Loons in Wisconsin Adopted a Baby Mallard Duck—and the Result Is As Adorable As Expected

Ian Fox/iStock via Getty Images
Ian Fox/iStock via Getty Images

It might be an exaggeration to say that loons and mallards are the Montagues and Capulets of the bird world, but they’re definitely not friends. According to Walter Piper, director of the Loon Project, which monitors loon behavior in northern Wisconsin, loons will chase away any mallards they see on their turf. So it’s all the more surprising that two loon parents have adopted an orphaned baby mallard duck in Oneida County’s Long Lake, reports Smithsonian.com.

Upon investigation, researchers discovered a nearby loon nest with broken shell remnants, suggesting that the loons’ own chick didn’t survive. Loons are traditionally very doting parents, so instinct likely prompted them to turn their parental impulses toward anything they could find as a replacement. Piper says it’s usually a loon orphan, but these empty nesters must have found the mallard first.

Baby mallard rides on the back of its loon parent
Photo by Linda Grenzer

Though loons and mallards have plenty in common, there are several ways in which this oddball family is deviating from the norm. For one, mallards mainly feed on plants and small invertebrates, while loons eat fish. The mallard adoptee has been seen accepting small fish from its mother, but its duck instincts seem to be working, too: It rejects larger fish offered by the male loon. And, as Piper told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, mallard babies don’t usually reap the benefits of two exceedingly attentive parents. Mallard mothers don’t feed their children directly, and mallard fathers don’t really parent at all. The mallard chick is also enjoying sailing around the lake on the backs of its new parents, though at this point it has grown enough to be a pretty heavy burden.

Perhaps the most problematic behavioral difference the mallard duck has exhibited thus far is its lack of instinct when it comes to helping protect the territory from loon intruders. During late summer, single loons hunt for ideal breeding territories and mates. They consider it a good sign if they see a lake with a happy loon couple and a chick, and sometimes they’ll even fight one of the parents so they can take over the family. To prevent this scenario, loon babies will either hide underwater or on the shore when another loon appears overhead, leaving their parents to feign childlessness. The mallard baby, however, basically did the opposite when it spotted another loon above: It swam into the middle of the lake and made a ton of noise. Nothing bad happened right then, but it’s possible that the intruder loon will bookmark the territory and return to usurp the adoptive parents next summer.

A baby mallard duck rides on loon's back
Photo by Linda Grenzer

By the end of this summer, though, the baby mallard will have mostly grown up, and it’s likely that it will soon figure out that it’s not a loon. When that happens, says Lori Naumann from the Nongame Wildlife Program of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, it will probably search for (and hopefully find) other mallards and assimilate into their habitat and lifestyle. In the meantime, we’ll patiently wait for Disney to turn the story into a heartwarming family film.

[h/t Smithsonian.com]

‘Soft and Cuddly’ Venomous Puss Caterpillars Have Been Spotted in at Least 3 States

Wayne W G, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0
Wayne W G, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

The puss caterpillar is cute, cuddly, and coming to ruin your day.

USA Today reports that the highly venomous creature, also known as the southern flannel moth caterpillar, or asp, has recently been spotted in Florida, Texas, and South Carolina. Underneath its furry coat are tiny, potent spines that break off and attach themselves to your skin, causing excruciating pain and creating a hematoma, a bruise-like wound under your skin where blood has leaked from blood vessels.

According to University of Connecticut entomologist David Wagner, the caterpillar is dangerous partly because the sting of those spines becomes more painful over time. “It builds for a long time in a frightening way. No one expects stings to gain in impact or discomfort, and these will,” he told USA Today. “It packs quite a wallop.”

For one victim in Dade City, Florida, even medically administered morphine didn’t alleviate her agony. “It felt like someone was drilling into my bones,” she wrote in a Facebook post. “I cried and pleaded with God for hours to make it stop.”

puss caterpillar
going on going on, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

If one does happen to inch its way onto you, curb the instinct to flail about or swat at random—trying to brush off the adorable nightmare just increases the possibility of those sinister spines sticking to your skin. Instead, have someone carefully and calmly remove the insect with a twig or a 39-and-a-half-foot pole. Then, take a shower and wash your clothes to minimize further exposure to leftover spines.

As traumatizing as the experience sounds, your chances of meeting one of these fun-sized villains are hearteningly slim. Wagner explains that they’re particularly scarce above the Mason-Dixon line, and not even very common in southern states, where they’re usually spotted.

In short, this is just another scientific reason why you should stick to petting dogs.

[h/t USA Today]

8 Adorable Products You Can Buy for International Sloth Day

Good Luck Socks/Intelex via Amazon
Good Luck Socks/Intelex via Amazon

It’s that time of the year again, folks—the time when we all collectively lose our chill over a slow-moving, two- or three-toed mammal with an adorable squeak and poop that defies physics. That’s right: International Sloth Day is coming on October 20. Here’s a list of must-have coloring books, onesies, and Christmas sweaters that you can pick up to showcase your love of one of the internet's favorite animals.

1. Cuddly Microwaveable Sloth; $23

Microwavable sloth for International Sloth Day.

Warm your heart and your body with a plush sloth that doubles as a soothing heating pad. The toy is filled with millet grains and dried French lavender, a combination intended to help you get to sleep easier.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Hanging Ceramic Sloth Planter; $19

FattyBee Ceramic Sloth Planter.

This flower planter pulls double duty, communicating both your love of sloths and your appreciation for plants. And it makes a tasteful piece of hanging home decor, too.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Sloth Coloring Book; $7

Sloth Coloring Book on Amazon.
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform/Amazon

Sloths themselves are already works of art, but you’d be forgiven for wanting a few more sloth-related crafts in your life. Now you can make your own masterpiece with this detailed coloring book. All you'll need are some colored pencils and you'll be ready to go.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Farting Sloth Coloring Book; $7

Sloth Farts Coloring Book on Amazon.
M & L Coloring Books/Amazon

But maybe traditional coloring books aren’t your thing. You’re in luck: Amazon sells a coloring book for the crowd that both loves sloths and laughs a little too much at farts.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Sloth Socks; $14

Sloth Socks on Amazon.
Good Luck Socks/Amazon

These socks are ideal for people who might not want to wear their love of sloths out in the open but are very comfortable showing it off on their ankles.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Sloth Onesie; $60

Tipsy Elves Sloth Onesie on Amazon.
Tipsy Elves/Amazon

No list of sloth-related products would be complete without a cozy onesie, and this one from Tipsy Elves is perfect for either pajamas or a last-minute Halloween costume. This onesie even comes with zippered pockets and cuddly sloth claws!

Buy it: Amazon

7. Sloth-Themed Ugly Christmas Sweater; $45

Tipsy Elves/Amazon

Why not celebrate the upcoming holiday season with this sloth-themed ugly Christmas sweater? You’re sure to be the hit of any holiday pub crawl or office Christmas party.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Sloth Mug; $13

Mika Mugs/Amazon

Really, what says it better than this mug? You just really freaking love sloths, and there’s nothing wrong with that, so be sure to declare your feelings along with your morning cup of coffee.

Buy it: Amazon

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