|The Living Dead
|Beak diversity in the seed eating ground finches
2. How about the Cotton Pygmy Goose? We normally think of geese as big, certainly bigger than ducks. So I was rather shocked to be browsing at random along those old-school museum style rows and rows of bird specimens mounted in glass cases and labeled with nothing more than a name and a location. Heightening the effect, this goose was, probably coincidentally, mounted alongside an Oriole that was almost as big. No kidding, I even have the picture to prove it. I had no idea such a thing existed. Why should one goose evolve to be so tiny when all other geese are so much bigger? (Google notes that the Cotton Pygmy Goose is actually a duck – however, it is still the smallest waterfowl in the world, so it remains pretty cool.).
|Death match or epic rap battle? Maroon Oriole v. Cotton Pygmy Goose
3. And then I saw the incredibly colorful and beautiful Tangara tanagers – another amazing example of sexual selection driving extravagant colors – or is it? I read in the text beside the display that the sexes in this group are identical, whereas most other traits that evolved through sexual selection are more exaggerated in one sex (usually males) than the other. So either sexual selection is driving male color and females are simply being dragged along genetically (they do share many of the same genes after all) or they are used for species recognition (but are these birds really so clueless as to need this much color divergence) or maybe it is somehow naturally selected (but why would it be so different – seemingly at random – among species)? I suspect that this topic has been well studied but, at that the moment standing in front of that display, it was fun to make the “discovery” myself. (Limited success on Google suggests that the topic actually hasn’t studied in much detail.)
|Tangara Tanagers - a mystery to me.
And on and on and on – one amazing critter after another, a reasonable number of which were totally new to me. Although none of these things were my discoveries in the real sense, they still felt like it in the moment. (Of course, none of these things were discovered by their European “discoverers” either – having been seen by indigenous people long before.) When I get home I can’t wait to kick my kids’ butts in our dinner game “what did I learn today that was new”, I can’t wait. Until then, I just have to say:
* Lest it seem I am disparaging the Redpath Museum and aggrandizing the MCZ, I would note the latter’s great pride in their Laborador Duck, one of about 40 in the world and “one of the museum’s great treasures.” The truth is that the Redpath Museum also has a Labrador Duck, albeit not a male. Our duck even graced the cover of a book about the quest to see all 40+ specimens - probably because, while not beautiful, it has a certain je ne sais quoi.
|The Labrador Duck outside my office in the Redpath Museum, McGill University.