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Word of the Week: Lek

Today’s word is:

lek

Pronounced: …lek. This one sounds like it looks!

Sciency Definition: A lek is a communal assembly area where members of certain species meet to carry on courtship behavior and impress the local ladies.

I could have said: Prairie Chicken party place! Musk Duck disco dance-off! Hermit Hummingbird ho-down! Capercaillie ass-kicking camp! (I could go on.)

What’s it do?  A lek is a place of great testosteronal activity: males of species including ground-dwelling birds like Black Grouse (Tetrao tetrix) and Sage Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) gather in one designated spot, performing mating displays and challenging each other. “Lek” is a word of Swedish origin, coming from the word leka which means “to play.” “Lekking” is the act of performing at a lek, which may also be called a “strutting ground.” Superior males get prime real estate in the lek, with lesser contenders lingering further towards the outskirts. Females visit to survey the selection and choose a mate. Pretty neat, huh?

Example sentence: I don’t have an example sentence today; all I can think about is a group of human males getting together in a big field to flap their arms and stomp their feet and make noise, while mildly-amused women stand off to the side, muttering to each other. I need some coffee.

You can check out an outstanding video here of Sharp Tailed Grouse lekking it up! It very well may be the coolest thing you see all week.

Diagram of Sage Grouse Lekking Grounds Via Sadi Carnot on Wiki

 

More for the super-nerds

 Just wanted to share this snippet of an article talking about male courtship behavior in animals like peacocks, cardinals, or any other species whose males aren’t exactly camoflauged:

Zahavi declared that male sexual characteristics only convey useful information to the females if these traits confer a handicap on the male.[12]Otherwise, males could simply cheat: if the courtship displays have a neutral effect on survival, males could all perform equally and it would signify nothing to the females. But if the courtship display is somehow deleterious to the male’s survival—such as increased predator risk or time and energy expenditure—it becomes a test by which females can assess male quality. Under the “handicap principle,” males who excel at the courtship displays prove that they are of better quality and genotype, as they have already withstood the costs to having these traits.”

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[Video] Dog Sings to Sad Baby

Any ideas why a pup might resort to yodeling and submissive behavior when a baby is crying? This video is super short but it fascinates me; my dog acts like this when we play-wrestle, but with more whining than singing. Precious, hope you enjoy!

[Video] Starling Murmuration

Wow. Wildlife synchronization at its finest.

 

[Bird Video Series] #5: Bower Birds Love Blue

Bower Birds Love Blue concludes our week of bird videos! As a visual person, I find it nice sometimes to take a break from reading and processing, and just watch the behaviors in their natural settings. I hope you’ve enjoyed these clips too.

Bower Birds are known for several things: 1) amassing a lot of stuff with which to impress their potential mates, 2) erecting impressive structures out of sticks (complete with support beams) and 3) stealing blue things from humans.

This is a group of species that go to an enormous amount of trouble to attract and please a mate: with Bower Birds, it’s not just about having good-looking feathers. Some species build piles of beetle wings that iridesce in the light, while others thatch entry ways in which they hope to mate. Today you get two videos, and I won’t apologize for featuring David again. I just won’t.

[Bird Video Series] #4: Golden Eagle Flying Camera

This clip from the BBC features Steve Leonard and a gorgeous Golden Eagle named Tilly. Golden Eagles are gregarious enough to be glove-trained and are known for their use as hunting companions in Mongolia. The Golden Eagle is, in fact, used all over the world for hunting due in part to their ability to acclimate to human handling. Bald Eagles, on the other hand, have a reputation for being less tolerant of people.

Check out this great video footage of what it looks like to be a Golden Eagle. Some fun things to note are Tilly’s tail and how small adjustments are made to help navigate, and how she constantly makes small movements with her head to utilize her remarkable vision. Raptors like eagles have some of the best eyesight in the world, in part because they have two fovea per eye (humans have only one per eye) and a higher concentration of cells in those fovea. Enjoy!

[Bird Video Series] #2: The Amazing Lyre Bird Mimic

I love David Attenborough. I will watch anything he makes, anytime, anywhere. If there is a Heaven, his documentaries play on repeat all day long. And I’m not picky – I’ll settle for things he only narrates too.

Now that that’s out of the way and you all know my secret love obsession with Sir Attenborough, on to the video. This clip is from Life of Birds, which, if you are unaware, is an amazing documentary on – you guessed it! – birds. There’s also Life of Mammals (obviously about mammals), Life in the Undergrowth (about invertebrates), and Life in Cold Blood (reptiles and amphibians). These documentaries are essentially the Planet Earths of the animal kingdom and they’re without a doubt some of the best nature documentaries ever made. Check them out, you’ll be happy you did!

This clip features a tropical bird called the Lyre Bird, which is a bird that mimics to impress mates. You won’t believe your ears when you hear what this bird can imitate…

And, now that you’ve enjoyed something educational, I’m leaving you with this one as well. At first I was highly offended by the hacking of an Attenborough clip, but, well, then I was laughing so hard I almost choked on my Poptart.

In Praise of the Heron.

Recently I’ve been fascinated with the many varieties of heron and have come across some equally fascinating photos. Herons are marsh birds with long legs, long necks, and long beaks. They remind me of pterodactyls in flight and are extremely patient hunters. They stalk slowly through the shallows in search of just about anything they can fit into their mouths and down their throats – which are stretchy enough to allow some pretty big fish passage. Enjoy!

It may look like they’re having fun, but only one of them really is.

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