- Education and Science
Weird nature is potentially an endless subject since nature has so many variations, most of which can seem pretty strange to us humans. Even humans can seem strange to each other, so it's not surprising that other life forms fascinate us and occasionally weird us out. To narrow down the field I have selected only weird nature that I have come across in person, whether at a zoo, wildlife parks or on my constant lookout for strange things as I walk my dogs.
The male eider duck is a slightly odd looking duck with some putty green and pink amongst their plumage and a rather Roman nose shaped beak. The females are mottled brown. What I find strange about them is the sound. Ducks quack - right? But not this one. They sound a bit like a very surprised pigeon and I find it hard to watch a group of eider ducks going "oooOOOOOOH oooOOOOOOH" to each other without chuckling.
Unfortunately you won't see eider ducks on your local pond because they normally live out at sea. You can enjoy watching a captive population of them at Wildfowl and Wetland trust sites such as Martin Mere in Lancashire, where they are being bred to help increase the numbers.
Eider ducks are best known for supplying the softest down for very expensive top quality eiderdowns. Their rather lovely Latin name Somateria mollissima alludes to this, meaning something along the lines of very soft sleep.
Eider down reportedly makes the softest warmest duvets.
Before you worry that eider ducks are being killed to provide down for duvets, you may be reassured to know that eider duck farming, which mainly occurs in Iceland, merely involves farmers attracting the ducks to nest sites and protecting them whilst they nest. The female eider uses her own down, which she plucks out to line the nests. This is necessary to protect the eggs from the cold ground which she nests on. Once all the ducks have raised their chicks and moved on, the farmers collect all the down and clean it before selling it for eiderdowns. This goes some way to explaining why genuine eider downs are so expensive, but at least you can purchase them with a clean conscience knowing that you are helping to protect a wild duck species.
Eider ducks are UK natives and interestingly an attempt was made at eider farming in Scotland by Gavin Maxwell, of 'Ring of Bright Water' fame. He had very limited success.
Walking down Ightenhill Park lane in Burnley I was very surprised to see what appears to be a hungry tree chomping away at a metal sign which someone had the temerity to attach to it. You possibly wouldn't want to park your car next to this tree in case it started on that next!
The world is full of amazing fungi. An unmissable species which is found in the UK is the stinkhorn - a fungus which should probably be x-rated. You'd struggle to describe the shape as anything other than phallic and as for the jelly at the base - hmm well! Its Latin name, Phallus impudicus, isn't subtle either.
It does have some interesting habits. It starts off egg shaped usually partly buried. The stalk then erupts from the egg growing to 4-10 inches high with the head initially covered in a smelly greeny brown slime. This attracts flies which end up covered in slime and spores which they disperse elsewhere. Once all the slime is gone the head is white like the stalk.
As you might expect, stinkhorn fungus was once thought to be an aphrodisiac and when young it is edible. However, according to Roger Philips (Mushrooms 1998) it doesn't taste great.
Quite a few animals have slightly weird bottoms - the blue and red of a mandrill's bottom springs to mind. One of my favourite animal bottoms is that of the falcated duck (Anas falcata), best viewed when they've upended themselves in a pond whilst dabbling for food.
The falcated duck's bottom looks to me like a penguin crossed with a Pokemon pikachu. If you stare at it for long enough you might think the same.
Although this duck isn't native to the UK, I have been able to see them at Martin Mere, Lancashire because they have a captive bred collection of wildfowl species which are declining in numbers in the wild.
Not nature strictly speaking since Fraud the earless rabbit was my own pet, a little weird none the less to have a rabbit without external ears because rabbits are so particularly known for their ears. Fraud's earlessness wasn't a result of a genetic mutation. From time to time mother rabbits, most often inexperienced ones with their first litter, chew their babies's ears off. Whether this is because of over enthusiastic grooming which they take too far or for some other reason is unknown. It does seem to be quite distinct from the behaviour of killing (and sometimes eating) their own young, which can also occur.
Fraud had another brother with no ears and two sisters with 1/2 an ear missing each. Fraud had very short ear stumps which would turn this way and that, but he was a long haired rabbit, so these were hidden by his hair.
This next one was beautiful rather than weird. I was out walking my dogs when I simultaneously saw this rainbow and the calving cow. I was some distance off and was concerned that she was lying down and not paying the calf any attention.
I was very cautious about approaching with my dogs. In the UK there are reports most years of dog walkers being trampled to death by cattle. Cows protecting their calves are more likely to behave aggressively but I was keen to check the situation out, so went zig zagging towards her and watching her response.
Getting closer I could see that the calf was still partly covered by the birth membrane and the afterbirth was half hanging out of the cow or maybe she was prolapsing. I was relieved that she had enough energy to look up at me, but could see that she was exhausted and needed help.
I walked to the nearest farm and found the farmer. Even though she wasn't one of his cattle he assured me he would go up and check on her. His own cattle are very well cared for so I knew that she and the calf would be in good hands.