Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Creature Feature: Jacanas.

Ever notice that animals seem capable of miracles? Axoltols and planaria can heal at astounding rates. Ants can lift millions of times their weight.  Then there's this bird, who almost pulls off the basilisk's ability to walk on water:
Jesus bird? Hardly. That's an African Jacana (Actophilornis africana), a bird also called a lily-trotter. Technically, it's walking on lilypads, not the surface of the water itself. Jacanas of various sorts (in a few genera) can be found throughout the tropics, eating snails, insects, and other small critters while striding above the surface.

First off, even if these guys are not walking on water, you will see them. The younger ones are white and brown; older jacanas usually have striking patterns of brown, white, and black.  That may not sound too stunning, but it's a high-contrast design. There are lots of different types of jacana, and they all have pretty striking colors. Jacana eggs are glossy, dappled things that look more fake than real. There's even a pheasant-tailed jacana, which is exactly what it sounds like:


Jacanas have the ability to walk on water flora. They do this using very long, slender legs and wide feet, which distributes their weight so that the birds do not sink. This gives the illusion of walking on water. They can also swim, which is less impressive, but still cool.

Jacanas also have a few interesting mating habits. Unlike many birds, which mate using many females and one male, jacanas do it the opposite way.  The guy also does all of the work raising the chicks. The female is off philandering and reproducing as much as possible. Talk about your double-standard...turned on its head.

Source: San Diego Zoo webpage.

Remember, for every miracle, there's usually a more logical explanation. Science is all about finding out what those explanations are. In this case, it's a bird walking on lily pads instead of water- not as miraculous, but still quite astounding.

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