What the Duck?

Words by: Simone Kealy
Art by: Lisa Vullings

Club-Winged Manakins
Machaetopterus deliciosus

The club-winged manakin is a cocoa-brown bird from the western Andes in Ecuador. To attract the female, male manakins sing not with their vocal cords, but by vibrating the feathers of their wings against each other. They do so at 1500 hertz, with a technique that is similar to that used by cicadas or crickets. Yet the beautiful and unique sound that this bird creates may actually be its downfall, as this preference for the violin-like song is making the birds’ wings evolve to have unusual feathers. The feathers are warped and condensed closer to the body, with two of the birds’ feathers distorting into thickened club-like bulges — which is where the manakin’s name originates. This has negatively affected the manakin’s flight, especially how effectively and efficiently they manoeuvre. Their poorly designed wings threaten the manakin’s survival and will likely result in the decline of their population. In short, the blind love of these horny birds for their mating song might drive the club-winged manakin to their self-fulfilled end.

Spotted Hyena
Crocuta crocuta

Although quite — for a lack of better words — unconventional and bizarre, hyenas have pseudo-penises and pseudo-scrotum which they give birth through. These pseudo-genitalia are essentially a fused clitoris, with an empty fake scrotum. Resulting in high levels of testosterone in female hyenas allowing them to dominate their packs by making them strong and assertive. However, because of this, the birthing process is extremely painful, with high mortality rates. In terms of how spotted hyenas have sex, the female retracts her pseudo-penis (which is also her clitoris) into her abdomen completely, which creates a totally functional vagina. Yikes!

Ophrys Orchid
Ophrys sp.

Moving onto plants now; dubbed the ‘prostitute orchid’, the Ophrys orchid truly lives up to its name. This orchid tricks male bees into having sex with it by having a lower lip that resembles the backside of a female bee — possessing fake folded wings and fur, as well as similar odours and pheromones. The pollination process begins when the bee starts mating with the pseudo-bee, which essentially shakes the pollen out of the flower’s own genitalia onto the bee’s back using a glue-like substance. When the bee eventually figures out that he’s been duped, he leaves the orchid ‘sexually frustrated’. This frustration helps with the survival of the Ophrys species, as instead of going to have sex with another Ophrys orchid close by, the bee ends up depositing the pollen into a more genetically diverse orchid, creating a hardier resultant orchid. Essentially, being the ‘prostitute orchid’ ensures this deceptive flower’s survival.

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