Fantastic Friday: Creches

Today this French-based term isn’t about a tableau for the birth of Jesus, or a British daycare or nursery. This is about animal behavior and the communal care and raising of young. This is a behavior that is exhibited by some bird species, particularly aquatic-based birds such as ducks, geese, eiders, penguins, and cormorants.

Female Mallard with ducklings. Washington, D.C. May 2016. Photo credit: Heather L. Kostick
Female Mallard with ducklings. Washington, D.C. May 2016. Photo credit: Heather L. Kostick

So, how does this even happen? Well, in some cases it’s just parents feeding the wrong kid, like in the case of cliff swallows who are colonial nesters. In other cases, there could be a territory dispute between females with young in tow, and a mix-up of children happens, and they end up with a different mother than they arrived with. However, sometimes it’s just moms teaming up and taking the “it takes a village” approach to parenting. Sometimes even non-breeding females will assist with the care of the young. I observed an example of a creche in D.C. when I was in town for the National Geographic BioBlitz, when a female Mallard had three ducklings in tow, and one of them was decidedly younger than the other two (not pictured). A National Park Service ranger informed me that it’s very common in the Constitutional Gardens to see that sort of thing, and that it was probably poor parenting on the other hen’s part that led to the hen I saw with the mixed-ages young.

So, this is mostly a bird behavior, but there are mammals, such as humans (ever drop know a kid dropped off to a daycare center?) and lions, that exhibit this behavior. It’s pretty cool to see instances of what could be considered adoption and/or daycare in species outside of Homo sapiens.

A little more information and examples:

Brandt’s Cormorants


African Lions 1

African Lions 2 

Fantastic Friday: Interspecies Bonds

**Normally, this would have been published on Friday, however due to the blizzard that hit the east coast of the US, it’s getting published now. Thanks for staying tuned.**

Here’s something to warm your heart on the day of the imminent blizzard that will occur tonight on the east coast. I am guilty of going on to Buzzfeed too often and checking out their articles, mostly due to the fact that the majority are short formats and are a quick read. However, today is not about the newer and popular source of media that is Buzzfeed. Today is about relationships, and I’m not writing about the ones between humans that sometimes result in children. Bonds and relationships formed between two organisms of different species is something truly fantastic to behold. Normally these bonds are either friendship or a mother adopting the abandoned offspring of another species. What caught my attention today was a female rhesus macaque adopting a stray puppy in New Delhi, India. Since monkeys and other primates are cousins of humans, it’s striking to see another primate bonding and caring for the most popular of human companions, a dog.

A rhesus macaque holding her adopted puppy in a New Delhi street. Credit: Dinamalar, Facebook.
A rhesus macaque holding her adopted puppy in a New Delhi street. Credit: Dinamalar, Facebook.

Since the internet began, pictures of cute animals have been around. But, today’s newest cute animal picture got me thinking how widely is this animal adoption phenomena studied by scientists, and is this a normal phenomena? Are the animals that adopt the young of an offspring inferior to other members of their species, therefore not given as many chances to mate and reproduce, and this adoption fills a need/void that the individual may have? Or, are these pictures and articles just the result of people having too much time on their hands, and the result of humans bringing species together that normally wouldn’t have interacted? Lots of questions, and below are some answers, or at least some cases to look at.

Articles on Animal Adoption:

Cross-genus adoption of a marmoset (Callithrix jacchus) by wild capuchin monkeys (Cebus libidinosus): case report

Adoption in Anthropoid Primates

A Case of Animal Adoption (Cow & Mule)

12 Cases of Interspecies Relationships

Fantastic Friday: Mating Rituals

Kick off your weekend learning about the diverse mating rituals of different species across Earth – both past & present. Click on the source (i.e., National Geographic) for the full article. 

A new spider species in Australia uses paddles to attract mates

“In a bizarre ritual, an amorous male hides on the underside of a leaf and thrusts the paddle high enough for a female on the other side of the leaf to see it. The researchers know of no other jumping spider that conducts such a peekaboo courtship—nor of one that has built-in paddles on its legs, according to a study published January 7 in the journal Peckhamia.” – National Geographic 1/15/2016

spider paddle
J. remus waves his paddle hoping to attract a lady. Source: National Geographic & Photo Credit: Jurgen Otto

Where dinosaur head ornaments used for sexual selection?

“Another paper in 2012 notes that it may have been the case that, for many dinosaur species, both males and females had prominent features, and both sexes preferred mates with the most elaborate structures.” – IFLS 1/14/2016

Clash of the Titans & Other Animal Mating Rituals

“One of the most fearsome of such battles occurs every spring among bull elephant seals. The Sumo wrestlers of the animal world, male elephant seals are quivering masses of blubber weighing up to 6,600 pounds. When they go at each other, a pair of bulls rear up, roar loud enough to make the earth shake, and collide with a thunderous crash. The whites of their bulbous eyes showing, they gnash at each other’s fleshy necks with blunt teeth that leave grievous-looking wounds and nearby beach water stained crimson with blood. It’s a dangerous game, but the payoff is enormous.” – PBS 12/1/2001

Albatross Romance & Mating Ritual

As narrated by David Attenborough: YouTube 2/12/2007

Albatross species with nestling. Source: Alphacoders

What Do Dinosaurs Find Irresistable? Sexual Dimorphism in Dinosaurs

“Non-avian dinosaurs were weird. That’s one of the reasons we love them so much. There’s nothing quite like a slender-necked Barosaurus, a beautifully-crested Dilophosaurus or lavishly-ornamented Pentaceratops alive today. If such dinosaurs were anything, they were bizarre, but why were they so strange? Each case demands its own explanation, and paleontologists have continuously tussled over whether particular ornaments were weapons, sexual displays or something else.” – Smithsonian 9/7/2012