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10 Quacking Facts About Ducks

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 -

Main image: Backyard Duck
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Animals
20 Black-and-White Facts About Penguins
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To celebrate World Penguin Day (which is today, April 25), here are a few fun facts about these adorable tuxedoed birds.

1. All 17 species of penguins are found exclusively in the Southern Hemisphere.

2. Emperor Penguins are the tallest species, standing nearly 4 feet tall. The smallest is the Little Blue Penguin, which is only about 16 inches.

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3. The fastest species is the Gentoo Penguin, which can reach swimming speeds up to 22 mph.

Gentoo Penguin
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4. A penguin's striking coloring is a matter of camouflage; from above, its black back blends into the murky depths of the ocean. From below, its white belly is hidden against the bright surface.

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5. Fossils place the earliest penguin relative at some 60 million years ago, meaning an ancestor of the birds we see today survived the mass extinction of the dinosaurs.

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6. Penguins ingest a lot of seawater while hunting for fish, but a special gland behind their eyes—the supraorbital gland—filters out the saltwater from their blood stream. Penguins excrete it through their beaks, or by sneezing.

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7. Unlike most birds—which lose and replace a few feathers at a time—penguins molt all at once, spending two or three weeks land-bound as they undergo what is called the catastrophic molt.

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8. All but two species of penguins breed in large colonies of up to a thousand birds.

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9. It varies by species, but many penguins will mate with the same member of the opposite sex season after season.

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10. Similarly, most species are also loyal to their exact nesting site, often returning to the same rookery in which they were born.

maegellic penguin nesting
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11. Some species create nests for their eggs out of pebbles and loose feathers. Emperor Penguins are an exception: They incubate a single egg each breeding season on the top of their feet. Under a loose fold of skin is a featherless area with a concentration of blood vessels that keeps the egg warm.

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12. In some species, it is the male penguin which incubates the eggs while females leave to hunt for weeks at a time. Because of this, pudgy males—with enough fat storage to survive weeks without eating—are most desirable.

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13. Penguin parents—both male and female—care for their young for several months until the chicks are strong enough to hunt for food on their own.

Penguins nest
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14. If a female Emperor Penguin's baby dies, she will often "kidnap" an unrelated chick.

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15. Despite their lack of visible ears, penguins have excellent hearing and rely on distinct calls to identify their mates when returning to the crowded breeding grounds.

16. The first published account of penguins comes from Antonio Pigafetta, who was aboard Ferdinand Magellan's first circumnavigation of the globe in 1520. They spotted the animals near what was probably Punta Tombo in Argentina. (He called them "strange geese.")

17. An earlier, anonymous diary entry from Vasco da Gama's 1497 voyage around the Cape of Good Hope makes mention of flightless birds as large as ducks.

18. Because they aren't used to danger from animals on solid ground, wild penguins exhibit no particular fear of human tourists.

19. Unlike most sea mammals—which rely on blubber to stay warm—penguins survive because their feathers trap a layer of warm air next to the skin that serves as insulation, especially when they start generating muscular heat by swimming around.

20. In the 16th century, the word penguin actually referred to great auks (scientific name: Pinguinus impennis), a now-extinct species that inhabited the seas around eastern Canada. When explorers traveled to the Southern Hemisphere, they saw black and white birds that resembled auks, and called them penguins.

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6 Myths About Animals, Debunked
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It’s easy to think we understand animals: They’re present in every part of our culture, from the movies we watch to the clichés we use. But the way a species functions in the wild is often worlds apart from a stereotype or cartoon. This gulf between misconceptions and reality is the theme of Lucy Cooke’s new book, The Truth About Animals.

"We have a habit of viewing the animal kingdom through the prism of our own existence, and that trips us up and obscures the truth,” Cooke, a zoologist and founder of the Sloth Appreciation Society, tells Mental Floss. “I think it's time we rebrand the animal kingdom according to facts and not sentimentality.”

As Cooke examines in her book, the real world is one in which pandas are virile lovers and sloths are master survivalists. These are just a few of the myths that were debunked in The Truth About Animals.

1. PANDAS HAVE LOW SEX DRIVES.

Pandas have long been blamed for their own precarious position in the animal kingdom. The species is in danger, some people claim, because pandas are reluctant to or just plain bad at copulating. If only they would get off their furry behinds and get it on, there would be more of them.

In The Truth About Animals, Cooke debunks this modern myth. Pandas have been living in the wild for 18 million years—long before humans swooped in to act as their savior—and that wouldn’t be the case without healthy sex habits. It’s true that pandas are difficult to breed in captivity, and the several failed attempts of zoos to produce a baby panda throughout the 20th century is likely what led to this stereotype. But the bears are much more responsive to members of the opposite sex in the wild. The female chooses who she mates with, moaning from high in a bamboo tree while several males on the ground compete for her attention. Once the bears have paired off, they can have sex over 40 times in one afternoon.

2. SLOTHS ARE LAZY.

Cooke was inspired to write her book by sloths, which she describes to Mental Floss as “highly successful, highly evolved” creatures. Not everyone agrees: More than perhaps any other animal, sloths have become synonymous with laziness and sluggishness, and today they’re held up as an example of evolutionary failure.

The reality is that sloths are much more impressive than their appearance suggests. They’ve been around since 64 million years ago—earlier than wooly mammoths and saber-toothed tigers—and they have their slow and steady nature to thank for their success. Sloths have a remarkably slow digestive system and a low-calorie diet, so they expend as little energy as possible, not out of laziness, but out of survival instinct. A sloth is awake for more than half the day, and when necessary it can scramble up a tree at speeds approaching 1 mph. It spends most of its day in a still, seemingly trancelike state, but it isn’t wasting its potential: It’s conserving energy so it can maintain its dominant spot in the evolutionary tree.

3. PENGUINS ARE LOYAL LOVERS.

Emperor penguins, the most famous of the bird group, are known for splitting parenting duties between mated pairs, with the father incubating the egg while the mother gathers food for her family. This has led some to praise penguins as the reflection of ideal, moral family dynamics in the animal kingdom, but these people should probably find a different analog. Though the parents of any given chick may raise their offspring together, penguins aren’t monogamous: 85 percent of emperor penguins find a new partner from one breeding season to the next. Penguins are also some of the only animals known to exchange goods for sex. Adélie penguins need rocks to build up their nests during warmer months when meltwater threatens their eggs. With no parenting duties to distract them, bachelor penguins end up collecting more stones than they need, so some females will sometimes trade a one-off sex session for one of their pebbles.

4. VULTURES STALK DYING PREY.

Watch enough survival movies and you’re bound to see a shot of a hungry vulture trailing behind the starving protagonist, waiting for them to lie down and die. The myth that vultures stalk their prey while it’s still alive and have the power to predict death is a persistent one, but that doesn’t make it accurate. The scavengers have no interest in living animals and will only seek out meat from dead and decaying corpses. Rather than reaper-like premonitions of mortality, turkey vultures and greater and lesser yellow-headed vultures use their noses to locate their meals. They join kiwis and kakapos on the small list of birds with highly-developed olfactory glands. Without a strong sense of smell, other New World vultures and all Old World vultures primarily rely on sight to find food. Some New World vultures like black vultures have adopted a different strategy: They'll follow turkey vultures to their prey, taking advantage of their sensitive noses.

5. ALL BATS ARE RABID BLOOD-SUCKERS.

Bats may be the animals most closely associated with the horror genre. They crave blood, so the myth goes, and though a bat latched onto your neck won’t be able to suck you dry, it will likely infect you with a nasty case of rabies.

According to Cooke, there are many problems with the statement above. Bats are poor stand-ins for their fictional vampire counterparts; only three species of bats drink blood—the common vampire bat, the hairy-legged vampire bat, and the white-winged vampire bat—while most prefer fruit or insects. After climbing onto its prey, the vampire bat locates where the blood is flowing with the heat sensor on its nose, and then, using its sharp front teeth like shears, it cuts away any hair that might be blocking the skin. Rather than biting down and sucking like Dracula, the bat creates a small incision and laps up blood from the open wound. They can recognize an individual animal's breathing patterns and return to feed on it the following night, taking advantage of the reliable blood source.

Bats are rarely rabid, with just .05 percent of them carrying the disease—less than dogs or raccoons. The image of a bat getting tangled in your hair also has no basis in reality: Their sophisticated echolocation system signals them to turn long before they have a chance to collide with your head.

6. FEMALE HYENAS HAVE PENISES.

Hyena genitalia has been baffling scientists for centuries. Member of both sexes appear to have a penis, while in females there’s no external vagina to be found. Scientists originally thought that hyenas must be hermaphrodites, but the true explanation is even more unusual. Though it’s often referred to as a pseudo-penis, female hyena genitalia doesn’t produce sperm, technically making it a nearly 8-inch-long clitoris. This appendage is also saddled with all the same duties as a conventional female organ, including giving birth to hyena pups.

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