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10 Quacking Facts About Ducks

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by Jenny Morrill, Mental Floss UK

“From troubles of the world I turn to ducks,

Beautiful comical things”

Ducks by Frank W. Harvey

From Jemima to Donald, ducks have permeated popular culture due to their friendly and entertaining nature. But far from just being waddling bundles of feathers, ducks are actually very complex creatures...

1. They follow the first animal they see


Image: Cute Overload

This is a phenomenon known as imprinting (nothing to do with the werewolf stuff in Twilight). The basic thought behind imprinting is as follows: a newly hatched duckling will adopt characteristics of the first animal they see. This is usually a mother duck, but could be anything from a dog to a human (which I assume is what happened to Donald Duck). There is even a known case of a group of ducklings imprinting on a cardboard box.

Imprinting takes place due to the duckling's instinct to follow the first thing that passes by, because more often than not this is their mother. To prevent this it is common practice, when hand rearing ducklings, to feed them using a hand puppet of a duck, so that later on the duckling can integrate with its own species.

2. Puzzling parts


Image: Neatorama

Duck romance isn't exactly moonlight and roses. While ducks pair off every mating season, this doesn't stop rival males from forcing themselves on the female. The males of many duck breeds have developed spiky, corkscrew shaped penises, which give them an advantage over rivals when it comes to depositing sperm. This video, charmingly titled Explosive eversion of a duck penis, shows the extent of the weirdness.

However, female ducks do not take this lying down. Over time they have developed vaginas comparable to Hampton Court Maze, with dead ends, and parts that spiral in the opposite direction to the male's penis.

It doesn't end there. Some breeds of duck have penises so long they are able to use them as lassos (see picture above). Researches at the University of Alaska theorise that the Argentinian lake duck will sometimes lasso escaping females in order to mate with them.

Ducks have also been known to have sex with dead ducks. I think it's fair to say that ducks are sex mad.

3. Not all ducks can fly 


Image: Karen Barclay

There is a breed of duck that has more in common with a penguin than with its anatine cousins. The Indian Runner is becoming increasingly popular with UK duck owners, thanks to its inability to fly and comical appearance; the most frequently used description among Indian Runner owners is “a wine bottle on legs”.

Even though the Indian Runner can't fly, it can outrun many predators, and also its owner. Because of this, Indian Runners are occasionally used to train sheepdogs.

4. They're not supposed to eat bread


Image: Down To Earth Mother

At some point in our lives, we've all been to the park to feed the ducks, usually clutching half a bag of stale Warburtons. However, feeding bread to a duck actually does the duck more harm than good.

While ducks are largely omnivorous, and have even been known to eat sand and grit for its mineral content, bread is actually one of the worst things they can eat. Apart from having no nutritional value, regularly eating bread can cause obesity, malnutrition, and a condition known as angel wing, which impedes the duck's ability to fly. On top of this, rotting, uneaten bread will attract pests and predators to the duck's environment.

Corn, oats and chopped vegetables are all good alternatives to try when feeding the ducks.

5. They have have 3 eyelids


Image: Flickr

This is the case with most birds. As well as the standard top and bottom eyelids, ducks also have a third, sideways lid, known as a nictitating membrane. The membrane acts like goggles do on humans, so the ducks can see while their heads are underwater. The membrane also removes things like grit and dust from the eyes.

6. You can tell a male from a female by the tail


Image: Flickr

While many breeds of duck are distinguishable by their colouring (for example, with the mallard), some have identical colouring regardless of sex. With these breeds, the most common way to tell the male from the female is to look at the tail feathers. In many breeds, the male will have curly tail feathers, in contrast to the female's straight, stubby feathers.

7. Not all ducks quack


Image: Notes From The Wild Side

In fact, hardly any ducks produce the characteristic 'quacking' sound we've come to associate with them. The most common UK duck, the mallard, does quack, but other breeds croak, squeak, whistle, or remain mute. You can listen to a few different duck calls here.

And while we're on the subject, duck quacks do echo.

8. Egg laying is affected by daylight


Image: Bebe Styles

Both ducks and chickens slow down their egg production when there is a shortage of daylight, due to the light levels affecting their hormones. This is why most breeds of duck and chicken don't lay many, if any eggs during the winter months.

Ducks aren't as affected by the dark as chickens however, and some breeds do lay all year round (the current record holder producing 364 eggs in one year).

Because of this, farmers and duck keepers are advised to introduce artificial light into the duck house in order to boost egg production.

9. Females are louder than males


Image: Pichost

Sorry ladies, our duck counterparts are giving us a bad name. With most breeds of duck, the female is considerably louder and more talkative than the male. In fact, some male breeds are virtually silent (desperately tries not do do a joke about being hen-pecked). People wanting to keep domestic ducks are often advised to keep only males if they have neighbours, as this will reduce the risk of annoying them with the noise.

10. They can be very indecisive

As this hilarious and adorable video shows -

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Animals
Owning a Dog May Add Years to Your Life, Study Shows
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We've said that having a furry friend can reduce depression, promote better sleep, and encourage more exercise. Now, research has indicated that caring for a canine might actually extend your lifespan.

Previous studies have shown that dog owners have an innate sense of comfort and increased well-being. A new paper published in Scientific Reports and conducted by Uppsala University in Sweden looked at the health records of 3.4 million of the country's residents. These records typically include personal data like marital status and whether the individual owns a pet. Researchers got additional insight from a national dog registry providing ownership information. According to the study, those with a dog for a housemate were less likely to die from cardiovascular disease or any other cause during the study's 12-year duration.

The study included adults 40 to 80 years old, with a mean age of 57. Researchers found that dogs were a positive predictor in health, particularly among singles. Those who had one were 33 percent less likely to die early than those who did not. Authors didn't conclude the exact reason behind the correlation: It could be active people are more likely to own dogs, that dogs promoted more activity, or that psychological factors like lowered incidences of depression might bolster overall well-being. Either way, having a pooch in your life could mean living a longer one.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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Big Questions
Why Don't We Eat Turkey Tails?
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Turkey sandwiches. Turkey soup. Roasted turkey. This year, Americans will consume roughly 245 million birds, with 46 million being prepared and presented on Thanksgiving. What we don’t eat will be repurposed into leftovers.

But there’s one part of the turkey that virtually no family will have on their table: the tail.

Despite our country’s obsession with fattening, dissecting, and searing turkeys, we almost inevitably pass up the fat-infused rear portion. According to Michael Carolan, professor of sociology and associate dean for research at the College for Liberal Arts at Colorado State University, that may have something to do with how Americans have traditionally perceived turkeys. Consumption was rare prior to World War II. When the birds were readily available, there was no demand for the tail because it had never been offered in the first place.

"Tails did and do not fit into what has become our culinary fascination with white meat," Carolan tells Mental Floss. "But also from a marketing [and] processor standpoint, if the consumer was just going to throw the tail away, or will not miss it if it was omitted, [suppliers] saw an opportunity to make additional money."

Indeed, the fact that Americans didn't have a taste for tail didn't prevent the poultry industry from moving on. Tails were being routed to Pacific Island consumers in the 1950s. Rich in protein and fat—a turkey tail is really a gland that produces oil used for grooming—suppliers were able to make use of the unwanted portion. And once consumers were exposed to it, they couldn't get enough.

“By 2007,” according to Carolan, “the average Samoan was consuming more than 44 pounds of turkey tails every year.” Perhaps not coincidentally, Samoans also have alarmingly high obesity rates of 75 percent. In an effort to stave off contributing factors, importing tails to the Islands was banned from 2007 until 2013, when it was argued that doing so violated World Trade Organization rules.

With tradition going hand-in-hand with commerce, poultry suppliers don’t really have a reason to try and change domestic consumer appetites for the tails. In preparing his research into the missing treat, Carolan says he had to search high and low before finally finding a source of tails at a Whole Foods that was about to discard them. "[You] can't expect the food to be accepted if people can't even find the piece!"

Unless the meat industry mounts a major campaign to shift American tastes, Thanksgiving will once again be filled with turkeys missing one of their juicier body parts.

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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