Twins Twain

So I'm in Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving, and my dad's girlfriend mentioned to me that I might enjoy the Mütter Museum at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Pronounced Mooter, the Mütter Museum was founded in 1859 thanks to a generous donation from Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter, a popular professor of surgery at Jefferson Medical College.

Just months before his death, Mütter gifted his extensive medical collection of over 1700 items - papier-maché models, anatomical illustrations, surgical tools, and medical specimens - to the College, along with an endowment of $30,000, on the condition that the College make the museum fire-proof within five years of its founding. Mütter is also known for being one of the earliest American plastic surgeons: he's renowned for his operations on clubfeet, cleft palates, and other congenital anomalies. For his use of the posterior cervical flap for grafting purposes in surgery, the flap was renamed the Mütter flap.

(Note: cervical doesn't necessarily mean what I bet you think it does. Cervical actually means anything related to the neck... the more common use of cervical refers to the "neck" of the uterus. But the posterior cervical flap [or Mütter flap, as it were] is a section of skin found on the neck. The Mütter flap is now used regularly in reconstructive surgery.)

Once the Mütter Museum was up and running in 1863, their collection grew rapidly. In 1874, the museum acquired a plaster cast of Chang and Eng Bunker, conjoined twins from Siam (now Thailand - but the term 'Siamese twins' arose from the Bunkers' fame).
The Bunkers were born connected at the sternum in 1811 to a Chinese father and a half-Chinese, half-Malay mother. King Rama II of Siam ordered that the twins be put to death, deeming them a bad omen for the country, but the order was stalled, and the twins eventually fell into favor with the king's son and successor, King Rama III, who named them ambassadors.

(Side-note: both King Ramas had insanely long names. Here's King Rama II's full name: Phra Bat Somdet Phra Poramenthramaha Isarasundhorn Phra Buddha Loetla Nabhalai. No big deal.)

In 1829, a British trader named Robert Hunter discovered the twins swimming, and, seeing a lucrative opportunity, brought them to the United States to display them in sideshows around the world.
Ultimately, the twins joined P.T. Barnum's circus until 1839, when they retired, purchased a plantation (complete with slaves and all) in North Carolina, and changed their last name to Bunker. In 1843, they married sisters named Adelaide and Sarah Anne Yates (Chang took Adelaide, with whom he had 10 children; Eng ended up with Sarah Anne - they had 11), much to the chagrin of local townspeople, who wanted the twins surgically separated (I guess the wives were into it, though, because they protested, and Chang and Eng remained connected). The sisters fought constantly though, so eventually the twins bought another house and began spending three days a week with one wife and the rest of the week with the other.
On January 17, 1874, Eng awoke to find Chang dead from pneumonia. He refused to be separated from his brother and he died a few hours later. Now a plaster cast of their bodies is on display at the Mütter, along with a chair that was specially designed for the twins to sit in, and their liver, the only conjoined organ between them.
The Bunkers inspired Mark Twain's 1869 short story, "The Siamese Twins". Here's an excerpt:

"The Siamese Twins are naturally tender and affectionate in disposition, and have clung to each other with singular fidelity throughout a long and eventful life. Even as children they were inseparable companions; and it was noticed that they always seemed to prefer each other's society to that of any other persons. They nearly always played together; and, so accustomed was their mother to this peculiarity, that, whenever both of them chanced to be lost, she usually only hunted for one of them-- satisfied that when she found that one she would find his brother somewhere in the immediate neighborhood. And yet these creatures were ignorant and unlettered-barbarians themselves and the offspring of barbarians, who knew not the light of philosophy and science. What a withering rebuke is this to our boasted civilization, with its quarrelings, its wranglings, and its separations of brothers!"
Twain was very close to his brother Orion, which might explain his life-long fascination with conjoined siblings, and their appearances in much of his work. Some people mistakenly assume that the Chang and Eng were the only models of conjoined twins that Twain worked from; in fact, later in the century he became aware of another set of conjoined twins whom he immortalized in his writing: the Tocci brothers.
Born in Italy in 1877 with four arms and two heads, but only one set of legs and reproductive organs between them, Giacomo and Giovanni Batista Tocci began touring the world at four months old, billed as "The Greatest Wonder of Nature". Throughout their lives, the Tocci brothers were the subject of intense medical examination, and a December 1891 Scientific American article describing their behavior endures to this day: according to the article, Giovanni was the more artistic and extroverted of the twins, and drank lots of beer, while Giacomo was introverted, prone to temper tantrums, and liked mineral water. They never learned to walk with their two legs, so instead they would walk around on all six of their limbs. In 1908, or thereabouts, they stirred up controversy by marrying two separate women in spit of their only having one set of genitalia.

In 1893, the Toccis prompted Mark Twain to set about writing "Those Extraordinary Twins", the story of Luigi and Angelo Capello, a pair of conjoined twins from Italy. In the preface, he says:
"I had seen a picture of a youthful Italian "freak" or "freaks" which was—or which were—on exhibition in our cities—a combination consisting of two heads and four arms joined to a single body and a single pair of legs—and I thought I would write an extravagantly fantastic little story with this freak of nature for hero—or heroes—a silly young miss for heroine, and two old ladies and two boys for the minor parts."
But "Those Extraordinary Twins" posed frustration for Twain - he meant for the story to be humorous and light, but as he developed the narrative, he found himself more interested in the minor characters he had created, whose plots, he felt, merited a more serious tone. In his remarks at the end of the story, he writes:
"As you see, it was an extravagant sort of a tale, and had no purpose but to exhibit that monstrous 'freak' in all sorts of grotesque lights. But when Roxy wandered into the tale she had to be furnished with something to do; so she changed the children in the cradle; this necessitated the invention of a reason for it; this, in turn, resulted in making the children prominent personages--nothing could prevent it of course. Their career began to take a tragic aspect, and some one had to be brought in to help work the machinery; so Pudd'nhead Wilson was introduced and taken on trial. By this time the whole show was being run by the new people and in their interest, and the original show was become side-tracked and forgotten; the twin-monster, and the heroine, and the lads, and the old ladies had dwindled to inconsequentialities and were merely in the way. Their story was one story, the new people's story was another story, and there was no connection between them, no interdependence, no kinship. It is not practicable or rational to try to tell two stories at the same time; so I dug out the farce and left the tragedy."
That tragedy evolved into his 1894 novel Pudd'nhead Wilson, and "Those Extraordinary Twins" was left as a short story. Set in the early 19th century in Dawson's Landing, Missouri, Pudd'nhead tells the tales of David Wilson, Thomas Driscoll, and a fair-skinned slacw named Roxy. Wilson, an eccentric doctor from the North with a penchant for fingerprinting, moves his practice to Missouri, but is not well-received by the townspeople - they dub him "Pudd'nhead" (nitwit) and refuse to take advantage of his legal services. Meanwhile, Roxy switches her infant son, Chambers, who is as light-skinned as she, with Tom, the infant son of her master, so that Chambers will be safe from slavery. Chambers grows up as an entitled white slave-owner known as Tom, while Tom is raised as a black slave by the name of Chambers.
After two decades, her master having died, Roxy finds herself freed. She saves money by working on river boats, but her bank fails and she loses all her earnings. She returns to Dawson's Landing and admits to Tom that she is in fact his biological mother, blackmailing him into giving her financial support. Also in Dawson's Landing at the time are the final incarnations of the Capello brothers: Luigi and Angelo are identical (separated) twins from Italy who make a living doing sideshows.
Tom, who is knee-deep in gambling debts, decides to make some fast cash by burglarizing his uncle, Judge Driscoll. Disguised as a woman, and brandishing a valuable Indian knife that he stole from the twins, Tom breaks into his uncle's home and winds up murdering him. Luigi and Angelo are within earshot of the judge's screams and rush to the scene, but they are too late - Tom is gone and Judge Driscoll is dead.
The townspeople discover the twins standing over the bloodied corpse, their knife lying beside it, and the brothers are immediately presumed to be the murderers. Pudd'nhead Wilson represents Luigi and Angelo in their trial, and, using forensic evidence gathered from fingerprinting (a fairly novel technique for the time), proves both the twins' innocence and Tom's guilt. Tom's true identity as a slave is revealed, and he is sold down river to pay off his debt. Chambers, meanwhile, regains his status as a white man, but, having been raised as a slave, never really adjusts to the change.

Well, that's probably more than you ever wanted to know about famous conjoined twins in American history, but if it makes you feel any better, I'll probably never talk about them again.


Emulated Arachne

If you ever plan on becoming a crossword puzzle master (as, DUH, I do), you really have to get a good grip on your Greek mythology. The girls are especially prevalent:

Erato and Clio, two of the nine Muse sisters (the ladies responsible for inspiring creativity and the arts), make frequent crossword appearances. Erato's name, which means "desired" or "lovely", shares its root with Eros (the god of sex -
you might better recognize his Roman appellations: Cupid and Amor. [Classic crossword clues: "Greek god of love", "Roman counterpart of Eros", etc etc. So write 'em down!]).
It's fitting, then, that Erato be the Muse of erotic poetry (and just lyric poetry in general, but erotic poetry sounds so much more exciting).

I always like Clio the best, though - she's the muse of history, which she must have gotten from her titaness mom, Mnemosyne, the deity of memory.

Medea also shows up a lot -- best known, of course, as the protagonist of Euripedes' tragedy, Medea, (which he produced in 431 BC along with three other plays, winning him third prize at the City Dionysia festival that year-
-hang on a sec, there were theatre festivals in ancient Greece? Who knew?! Gonna have to look into that...

Ohhh duh, ok, obviously it was a part of that big religious festival honoring Dionysus...
(see, I always pictured that looking more like this...:

thank you disney! thank you youtube!
...but that must have been what they were doing on Mount Olympus or something.) In Athens, it worked more like this:
At some point Athenians rejected a statue of Dionysus and he gave the men some kind of genital disease. So, at the beginning of Spring for about 700 years, Athens would throw a week-long party to honor the god (and, more importantly, keep their genitals disease-free).
Day 1: Pompe and circumstance! In a massive parade called the pompe, Athenians from far and wide head up the Acropolis to the Theatre of Dionysus, bearing, amongst other things, the wooden statue of Dionysus, wine, bronze and wooden phalluses (natch), and, then comes my favorite: a cart pulling a giant phallus (where can I get that job?). After the procession, there are singing, flute-playing, and poetry competitions, followed by sacrificing bulls and a giant feast for all of Athens (who was doing the catering?!). As if that weren't enough, the feast gives way to another huge parade dedicated to carousing drunkenly through the streets (they really don't hold back at all, those Athenians)!
Day 2: In a ceremony known as the proagon, the three playwrights announce the titles of their plays and the judges are selected.
Days 3-5: On each of the days, one of the three playwrights performs his three tragedies and one satyr play.
Day 6: Five comedies are performed.
Day 7: Another parade. Winners are announced by the judges, and receive a wreath of ivy (can you imagine how pissy actors would be nowadays if they put on four plays in a day and just got a plant on their heads?).)

There's actually so much more to look into on this front, but we've really gotta press on - I haven't even finished telling you about Medea!
SO, the super-abridged version of Medea's story is this:

Jason is the rightful king of Iolcus (modern-day Volos), but in order to take the throne, he's charged with the task of producing the Golden Fleece (literally - the fleece of a golden winged ram; see image on left), which was in Colchis (modern-day Georgia). So Jason sets off (on his ship, the Argo - also popular in crosswords), and eventually lands in Colchis.

In Colchis he meets the sorceress Medea, who falls in love with him and promises, in exchange for his hand in marriage, to help him find the Golden Fleece. This involves protecting him from a fire-breathing oxen, letting him know that the secret to defeating an army of warriors grown out of a set of dragon teeth is throwing a rock at them (they become confused and turn on each other. How did you not know that, Jason?), and finally, giving him the potion to make the Sleepless Dragon, who guards the Golden Fleece, to pass out.
Jason and Medea sail off with the fleece in tow and her father and her brother at their heels. Don't worry -- she manages to lose Dad and cut her brother into pieces, so that takes care of that. They eventually make it back to Iolcus, but the king still refuses to give Jason the throne. So Medea takes it upon herself to convince the king's two daughters she can make him young again if they chop him up (girlfriend has a passion for slicing and dicing). The girls believe her, do as instructed, and, go figure, there's no coming back for the king.

THEN Jason and Medea (or at this point, more like Bonnie and Clyde) are exiled for the murder of the king and flee to Corinth, where they settle down and have two kids.
Here, Euripedes' play begins (Apollonius' Argonautica covers most of the adventure up to this point). Creon, the king of Corinth, offers Jason his daughter Glauce's hand in marriage, which obviously Jason accepts, seeing as it gives him a chance at a throne and that's clearly what he's been after all this time. Medea fliiips though, sending Glauce a dress and crown covered in poison. As Glauce is dying, her father rushes to her side, comes into contact with the poison, and also dies. Then, to really get Jason's goat, Medea kills their two children (she really takes that thing about revenge being a dish best served cold pretty seriously). In the end, Medea flees to Athens and Jason dies alone and miserable on the Argo, crushed in his sleep by the collapse of the rotting ship.

So, as far as Greek women, Erato, Clio, and Medea all tend to appear fairly frequently in crosswords. A less common one, though, is Arachne. She doesn't show up in a lot of Greco-Roman mythology - it isn't until Ovid shares her story in the sixth book of Metamorphoses that she becomes a household name (Medea's story is told in the seventh book). 

Now I'm no Ovid, but here you go:

Arachne is a mortal from Lydia who is apparently really good at weaving. So good, in fact, that she claims to be a better weaver than Athena, who, among her many talents, is the also conveniently the goddess of weaving.
Well, Athena doesn't like this at all, so, disguised as an old woman, she suggests to Arachne that she might want to tone down all her gloating. But Arachne holds her ground, and challenges the old woman to a weaving contest. At that, Athena removes her disguise and weaves the scene of her victory over Poseidon. Arachne shoots back with an impeccably woven tapestry depicting 21 different stories in which the gods tricked mortals by disguising themselves. Then Athena really loses it: she destroys the tapestry and attacks Arachne, demanding that the impertinent human bow before her. Arachne, too proud to submit to the goddess, elects to hang herself instead. Athena doesn't want Arachne to have the last word, though, so she turns the noose into a web and Arachne into a spider.

Besides the Metamorphoses, Arachne's legacy is manifold:
- In Canto XII of Purgatorio, the second part of the Divine Comedy (post-Inferno, pre-Paradiso) Dante mentions running into Arachne on the first terrace, where the proud are forced to carry rocks on their backs.
- The image on the above left is Gustave Doré's etching of Arachne for the Commedia. (In 2003, Grammy-winning Texan rock band The Mars Volta used the famous illustration for the cover of a live extended release album.)
- And here's a paper written by a student at Collegiate in 1997 that suggests Dante identifies with Arachne because they are both artists so skilled they seem to be challenging the gods.
- But the best part is that arachne became the Greek word for spider, and then that became the root for one of my most beloved taxonomical classes, the eight-legged invertebrates: Arachnida! Clearly Zeus didn't make Athena read Be Nice to Spiders as many times as my dad made me.

Ohhh how I wish I could get into some good spider stuff with you right now, but the tryptophan's doing its thing and I've really gotta hit the hay. But at least now you know - if ever you run into Arachne in a clue, I can almost guarantee that the answer will be spun or wove! À demain chickadees! And happy Thanksgiving! 


      Mallory Real World JCrew

      Anyone else remember Mallory Snyder, the virginal soccer star from Iowa -- the hottiest hottie on Real World Paris? 
      (AKA the 2003 season when they worked at Frommer's  and Ace, the tool from Georgia State, was in a permanent state of culture shock? And I guess this guy Adam was on it - I totally don't remember him but someone PLEASE get the man a job as Obama's body double.)

      I  didn't really pay much attention to this season (I was, thankfully, just getting out of my Real World phase---
      (I really only ever liked Real World Chicago anyway, and that was just cause I was really into serial monogamist/antidepressant-popping Cara (I thought she had good hair and felt I could identify with her as a small Jewish girl - and she went to Wash U, which I kind of wanted to apply to for a second).
      Cara's full name, btdubs, is Cara Kahn Nussbaum, but she drops the Nussbaum for her stage career (??). While the Chicago season was airing, she appeared in the May issue of Stuff Magazine (much to the delight of the snarky-tv-blogging vanguard of 2002 - they just ate it right up when she was quoted as saying "I admire women who masturbate"). If you feel so inclined, you can look at pictures from the shoot here but it's nothing special. Just her looking trashy in frosted lipstick and ugly shoes.
      What IS special is the fact that it's not on Stuff's website but on Maxim's! BECAUSE the same people who publish Maxim published the U.S. Edition of Stuff, but in October 2007 they decided to absorb it as a special section in Maxim. The publishers sent their 54,522 subscribers the following message:
      "This is a note to inform you that Stuff Magazine has ceased publishing with the Oct 2007 issue. The balance of your paid subscription will be fulfilled with Maxim. If you have any questions, please contact us at: Maxim / P.O. Box 420234 / Palm Coast, FL 32142-0234." :( sad face
      If you wiki Stuff Magazine, the link to the U.S. Edition will just lead you to Maxim's site. And don't get too tripped up on the fact that there is also a U.K. edition of Stuff [the best-seller in gadgets magazines and 6th best-selling men's magazine in Britain - complete with a video website and podcast!], a Singapore Stuff [started in 2004 - best-selling men's mag], AND a Stuff India [well, not a best-seller in anything, but was just launched in 2008 - he's still a babay!].

      If you wanna be able to look at the original article that appeared in Stuff, you're gonna need to get it for $9.99 on EBay. Or if it's gone by the time you get there, you can buy it for $15 (from this really sketchy site called Wonder Club? I dunno, this is so absurd: it's super vintage-looking and claims to be "dedicated to sharing their thirst for knowledge with the world". Which means they have three semi-decent fact pages specializing in the Wonders of the World, Wildlife, and Geography. I mean, I like a good fact page, and these aren't actually bad at all [although the Wildlife page has THE randomest selection of animals ever], so that's something I can get behind, but WHY the REST of the website is dedicated to hawking movies, celebrity posters, jigsaw puzzles, and back-issue adult men's magazines is completely beyond me.)
       Well, just to get back to Cara for a quick second: since Real World, besides her appearance in Maxim and her flourishing acting career, I can't say she's done a whole lot. According to one blog, she wrote an article called "Reality Check" for a magazine called Topic, but the only good hit I get for "Reality Check" by Cara Kahn is that blog post.

      Meanwhile the link for Topic takes you to a scary-looking page that says the account has been suspended. UNLESS she has been writing for Topics Online Magazine for English learners, or Topic, the British literary review that hasn't published a new issue since 2003, OR Topic, a quarterly non-fiction magazine published by über-hip NYC design duo Giampietro+Smith (I actually do recommend taking a look at Rob Giampietro's site, Lined and Unlined - it seems kind of in keeping with the ideology here at Curiouser...), then I really can't speak much to Cara's recent accomplishments. 

      However, the Vows section of the Times did run a pretty substantial article on her 2006 wedding to opthomologist Dr. Jared Fudemberg, whom she began dating just before she started the Real World season. When the article was written, the newly-weds were living in Kansas - Jared was doing his residency, while Cara was working retail in a clothing boutique called Serendipity. That was three years ago, though, and her Facebook profile says she's in the Philly network, so maybe they've moved onwards and upwards... Either way, mazel tov to the happy couple. I think I'm over my Cara thing now.)
      ---BUT I was always a little fixated on Mallory, probably cause the boy I liked mentioned once that he thought she was hot...and then I'm like 93.4% sure I saw her when I was in London for New Year's 2005. 

      And she really was that hot I guess... she modeled for the 2005 and 2006 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Editions, and has appeared in advertisements for Abercrombie. Her work garnered her a sexiness rating of 83, a success rating of 76, a reader's rating of 88, and an editor's rating of 79 on her askmen.com profile.
      She's still signed with Marilyn modeling agency (her portfolio is available there), but the only press she's gotten in awhile was for her Spring 2008 appearance in the J. Crew catalog. 
      Other than that, you might (MIGHT) be interested to know that Mallory's friend Christa Hoffarth photographed her earlier this year while she was pregnant with her first child (another mazel tov in order!), and her Twitter reflects her love for Demi Lovato and Miley Cyrus. Oh! And her cat gave birth on September 20! (One more mazel tov before we go to bed? Why not? Maz!)

      p.s. i used the word "really" 8 times in this post. i should probably work on my vocabulary.


      those goddamned ducks

      It won't take you long to figure out that I'm a huge animal freak. Always have been, always will be. I'll be honest, though, for a long, long time, I really just couldn't get myself into birds. Well prepare yourselves for lots of bird posts, folks, because that has changed in a serious way, and you have two Jersey boys to thank for that.

      The first is a guy who will be showing up a lot around here, so much so that it's really pretty fitting that he be included in the inaugural post. Anyone who has watched the Sopranos pilot (if you haven't, that's a bandwagon you just need to get on, no questions asked) knows full well how moved Tony was by the ducks in his pool - literally, their departure provoked the panic attack that sent him to therapy in the first place. His second session with Melfi establishes the ducks as an enduring trope as they discuss a dream he had the night before, in which the ducks made a furtive appearance:

      I do adore Tony for being such an animal lover: it's just one of the many things we have in common.

      So I'm at the Bronx Zoo this August with my brother (aka Jersey Boy #2), and we're just getting our bearings and figuring out our route as he points out a big old duck pond. I dismiss his suggestion that we check them out, because why hang around watching ducks you can see anywhere when you're at the BRONX ZOO?! He protests, though (I think "but I love water fowl!" were his exact words - at that, I obliged, because a line like that deserves rewarding).

      Anyway, we ended up spending a good half hour there, watching the ducks, and I've gotta give the kid credit - he was right, they were kind of great. They did look pretty much like the ducks I've seen around here my whole life, but these ones seemed so much more fascinating all of a sudden! I had never noticed that, for instance, they have these lovely iridescent purple racing stripes under their wings! And they're like, GORG. I couldn't find the nameplate with the species information but I refused to believe that any New Jersey duck I'd ever seen ever had swanky purple stripes like those.

      A few weeks later, I introduced my best friend to the Sopranos pilot (doing my duty to spread the gospel), and I noticed that the ducks in the Sopranos' pool boasted those same racing stripes as the ones from the zoo. Those goddamned ducks... It was time to investigate.

      Sopranos ducks species wasn't especially helpful--
      (although this is a great NPR blog post about the Alice's hummingbirds that had taken up residence in the author's window, 

      and here is a cute little article about a mom duck and her brood waddling around the Fox News Corp building in L.A.)

      --nor was bronx zoo ducks...it was time to go macro:

      Vocab lesson: The word duck comes from the Old English word for "to dive or bend down", dūcan, because of dabbling ducks' tendency to feed by sticking their heads underwater. In German and Dutch, the words for duck are Ente and eente, which probably derived from the Older Old English word for duck, æned - a cousin of the Latin anas, Lithuanian ántis, and Sanskrit ātí- all descendants of the Proto-Indo-European language. Also, I'm going to start calling female ducks hens and males drakes, okay? Because I can. And because you should.

      Normally I'd never steer you away from anything as amazing-looking as the mandarin drake:

      ...but we've gotta try to keep our focus here, people. As it turns out, Tony's ducks, the Bronx Zoo ducks, and pretty much most of the ducks I've at least ever seen in my life belong to the species known humbly as The Mallard. Apparently I've been living under a rock because I was always under the impression that mallard exclusively referred to the male everyday ducks with green heads. Who knows where I got that idea; it's true, mallard drakes have that nice green head with the yellow beak and brown feathers (ALSO: 56–65 CM LONG, 81–98 CM WINGSPAN, & WEIGHS 0.9–1.2 KG) but the light brown hens are mallards too, it turns out.

      a mallard right?!

      when drakes are in breeding 
      plumage they rock some nice red and white stuff

      So, that's good to know, I guess. I also learned:
      • all domestic ducks (with the exception of 1 species - the Muscovy duck, which we just can't get into right now) are descended from mallards
      • mallards breed on every continent except Antarctica and South America (although they also spend time in Central America and the Caribbean)
      • mallards lay clutches of 8-13 eggs that hatch after about 4 weeks
      • mallard ducklings are precocial (they can swim and feed themselves upon hatching) and fly the nest at 50-60 days old (precocious ducklings=one of nature's cuter offerings. press play.)
      • not to ruin your precocious duckling mood or anything, but you should know that mallard drakes are notorious rapists: the ones that end up without a hen-friend will band up to harass isolated single ladies, pecking and chasing them until they are too weak to fend off the males when they're taking turns having their way with her -- a phenomenon referred to as flight rape* 
      *MAJOR ASTERISK: mallard drakes are also known to turn their rapey tendencies on one another. it was news to the world, though when in 2003 dutch ornithologist kees moeliker, published the first recorded observation of homosexual necrophilia in mallards. In 1995 moeliker was sitting in his office in rotterdam when he heard a bird crash into the window - within a minute he found himself in front of a male mallard, copulating with the corpse of the hapless drake that had broken its neck on the glass. for his discovery, moeliker was granted the Ig Nobel Prize in biology (the ig nobel prizes are run by improbable research - an organization committed to the celebration of "research that makes people laugh and then think"). at a later date, be prepared to little more about improbable research (because it's interesting), a good amount more about kees moeliker (because he's dutch, looks kinda like my roommate, and this picture is juuuust...) and a lot more about homosexuality in non-human anymules, (because it's one of my favorite things).*
      I digress, I digress. I can't help myself- this is all such great stuff! But for our purposes today, here's the real jackpot: speculum feathers. (No, ladies, not like the gyno tool - speculum just means reflective/mirror-like.) Speculums are colored patches found on the remiges (wing feathers, basically - I can't get into like feather anatomy with you guys right now) of some bird species - especially, you guessed it: DUCKS!

      Blue Winged Teal pair, Bronze Winged Duck & Pacific Black Duck

      And here's what you've all been waiting so patiently for:

      a mallard drake shows off his left set of speculum feathers
      mallard hens also get nice ones!

      OMG ok, that was really going to be all, but I have to let you guys know that as I was reading this over before going to post it, looking at the word mallard so many times made it start to sound really weird... and I realized that while I know (and you do too, now) where the word duck came from, I didn't do my due diligence on the etymology of mallard! Well, how bout this for absurd:

      The word mallard originated in the early 14th century from the Latin mallardus, which came from the word Latin masculus (MALE). "THE ORIGINAL SENSE WAS PROBABLY NOT OF A SPECIFIC SPECIES BUT OF ANY MALE WILD DUCK."

      boy do i feel vindicated.