Till death brings us closer.

It was a lazy afternoon on 5 June 1995. Kees Moliker was settling into his chair, minding his own business when he heard a loud thud outside his window. An ornithologist by training, his office was situated within the Natuurmuseum Rotterdam in Nethlerlands. Cautiously he approached the window where the thud was heard and he witnessed a horrifying sight! An adult male mallard was lying dead on the ground. There was another mallard mounting the corpse and raping it. Moliker stared transfixed at the sight before him…for nearly 75 minutes. When he couldn’t stand it anymore, he left his office and approached the crime scene to stop the hideous crime from continuing.

Scene of Crime

Scene of Crime

What just happened? Sex with a corpse? How is that possible? Contrary to what many people believe about animal sexual behavior, there are species whose sexual behavior are promiscuous and opportunistic in nature. A wide range of animals appear to masturbate and use objects as tools to help them do so. In many species it seems that animals try to give and receive sexual stimulation where procreation is not the aim.

gay mallards

On that fateful day in June 1995, Kees Moliker witnessed animal homosexual necrophilia. Necrophilia in animals is essentially when a living animal engages in a sexual act with a dead animal. What happened on that day was when a drake mallad (Anas platyrhynchos) was in full flight, it hit the glass facade of the Natuurmuseum Rotterdam building and died 2 metres away from the facade. According to Moliker, he speculated that the 2 mallards were involved in some kind of aerial chase or pursuit flight and while the victim flew into the glass building, the drake that was pursuing managed to avoid collision and landed next to the dead mallard. This is a common motif in duck behavior which is also known as rape flight. It was unlikely that the other drake was just passing by and saw the dead mallard as it appeared beside the corpse in less than a minute after the mallard’s death.


After landing, the “rapist” forcibily picked into the back, the base of the bill and mostly into the back of the head of the dead mallard for about two minutes, then mounted the corpse and started to copulate, with great force,
almost continuously picking the side of the head. The necrophilic rapist only reluctantly left his victim when Moliker approached the dead mallard and “rescued” it from the “rapist” after 75 minutes. So it seemed that it could have gone on even longer if Moliker hadn’t intervened.

Upon inspection of the dead mallard, it was revealed that it was a male mallard. This was unusual as necrophilia was known in the mallards but only among heterosexuals. Essentially, this made the first observed case of homosexual necrophilia in mallads. This discovery netted Moliker an Ig nobel prize in biology awarded for improbable research; research that “first make people laugh, and then make them think.”

You can check out the video Homosexual Necrophilia

Now a few questions that deserve further research are these. Did the gay duck just broke up with his partner? And is he doing this to vent his frustration? Well, these are interesting things to contemplate on.


Moeliker.C.W., 2001. The first case of homosexual necrophilia in the mallard Anas platyrhynchos (Aves: Anatidae). DEINSEA, 8: 243-247.

“Necrophilia among ducks ruffles research feathers” by Donald.Macleod. Improbable Research, 8 March 2005. URL: http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2005/mar/08/highereducation.research (accessed on 8 Apr 2010).

Minimovies-Ig Nobel  Prizes Episode 1/6. (Homosexual necrophilia in the mallard duck), 2 October 2009. URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NfWiqdlmsm4 (accessed on 8 Apr 2010).

Man’s Next Best Friend: The Greater Honeyguide

Greater Honeyguide

The Greater Honeyguide , Indicator indicator, has been known to guide men to bee colonies in many parts of Kenya, Africa. This symbiotic relationship between bird and man has actually dated all the way back to the 17th Century! The greater honeyguides are especially useful when it comes to unfamiliar areas. Due to the honey gatherers’ use of smoky fire to hypnotize the bees, the greater honeyguides benefit from being stung. In addition, most of the nests are more accessible to the birds only after the humans have opened them (Isack and Reyer, 1989).

The scientific study undertaken by Isack and Reyer discovered that communication between the Borans of Kenya  and the greater honeyguides were through sounds and visual signals. To get the attention of the birds, the Borans used a penetrating whistle. The greater honeyguide responded by flying close to the honey gatherer and gave a ‘guiding call’. The bird made use of its calling, its display of its conspicuous white outer tail feathers and perching on nearby branches to guide the Borans to the bee colonies. Upon arrival, the bird would perch on the branch close to the nest and make an ‘indication call’. The Borans interviewed have observed that through this guiding behaviour, the birds were able to inform them of the direction, distance as well as their arrival to the bees’ colony.

The greater honeyguide’s calling is only directed at humans. However, unlike communication between animals (such as pet cats and dogs) and man, the greater honeyguides are not domesticated.  There have even been observations found that some greater honeyguides attempted to guide nonresponding humans (Dean et.al, 1990)! Despite an amazing discovery of a connection between a wild animal and a human, this relationship is otherwise threatened due to urbanization and advanced technology of extracting honey from beehives.

Here is a clip of the BBC Series‘’Talking to Strangers’’ which documented the relationship between man and bird:


“BBC Talking to Strangers: Honeybirds,” by unireality. unireality YouTube Channel, 23 February 2009. URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SN5igku_kGk&feature=related (accessed on 27 March 2010).

Dean, W. R. J., Siegfried , W. Roy & MacDonald, I. A. W., 1990. The Fallacy, Fact, and Fate of Guiding Behavior in the Greater Honeyguide. Conservation Biology, 4 (1): 99-101.

“Greater Honeyguide,” by B.J. Bergstrom. 320 Birds of Kenya. URL: http://www.valdosta.edu/~bergstrm/grtrhoneyg2.JPG (accessed on 3 April 2010)

Isack, H.A & Reyer, H.U, 1989. Honeyguides and Honey Gatherers: Interspecific Communication in a Symbiotic Relationship. Science, New Series, 243 (4896): 1343-1346.

Till death do us part..

Cold blooded animals like reptiles are not usually associated with being faithful. To put it in a humanise  way, reptiles flirt around with no fix sexual partner throughout its life. However, this particular reptile specie will change your life, my life (just joking) and perhaps our views on cold blooded animals.


Shingleback from Dr Ellen

In reptiles, and lizards in particular, monogamy is rarely reported. However, this lizard(shown above)  is almost the only one that is monogamy. Monogamy is where a single male and a single female form an exclusive association and cooperate in breeding activity (Wickler and Seibt, 1983).

The reptile that is so “faithful” is Tiliqua rugosa, commonly known as Shingleback blue- tongued skink. It is found throughout the drier parts of Southern Anstralia, from approximately Bathurst in New South Wales all the way to the coast of Western Australia. (Loch, T. 2000) Shingleback skinks are among the largest of the Australian skinks. Mature adults typically weigh about 600 to 900 grams and have snout-vent lengths (SVLs) of 16 to 18 inches (VItt and Pianka, 1994).

Enough of the reptile, lets go into the sweetest part of the animal. It is best known for monogamy.

There are several reason why animals choose to be monogamy :

1) Males stay with their female partner to provide paternal care and help to raise young to ensure a higher reproduction rate.

2) Males had to guard their female partner from rivalry to ensure their own paternity.

3) Females adopt monogamy when they are advantaged by accompanying males.

However, these 3 most common reasons/functions of monogamy cannot explain why Shingleback choose to form loyal pairs for up to 20 years (FYI, their average lifespan is 15 years in the wild thus it is effectively “married” for life). So why did Shingleback choose to remain loyal when the apparent functions of monogamy are not applicable to them? Some scientists used the costs VS benefits theory to explain. They explain that it might cost more to break a relationship then to remain with the same partner throughout its life. Thus, in the case of Shingleback, the benefits of staying loyal outweigh the cost of looking for a partner every mating session. Well, i believe that some things cannot be explained using science especially in the field of relationship.

Image from Dr Ellen

The whole duration of courtship take an amazingly long period of time (well, at least in animals). An inseparable courtship stage ensues for 6-8 weeks. In other words, the couple will stay side by side for more than 2 months before they began their mating ritual. This prolong period of courtship is seldom observed in reptiles.  After the copulation, pairs then usually separated for 10 months, after which they seek out the identical partner the following years.  Astonishingly, some pairs have been found together for 10 consecutive years (Vitt and Pianka. 1994). A study done by University of Michigan Museum of Zoology illustrate long-term individual recognition by this specie and also shows that these reptiles are monogamous more often than not (Loch, T.2000).

In the video shown below, we would observe the courtship behaviour exhibited by the Shingleback. I was shocked when i heard that the couple will remain side by side for up to 2 months. The courtship is so “human like” in the way when gentle touching(or licking) is the way of courtship (compared to other reptiles). Towards the last part of the video, the humane side of them shows again. The male would stay with the female after it was dead. It was indeed surprising for a reptile to do that!

Maybe, one day, we should redefine some of our definition or labeling of our cold blooded friends.

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