Monday, September 15, 2008

The Rat Tailed Monkey Duck

Mark Twain, in his travels in Northern California, called the Rat Tailed Monkey Duck the "strangest creature I have ever seen." Jack London claimed that he had nightmares for weeks after unexpectedly finding one digging through his trash one night: "I found the creature in the refuse heap in the black night of my back yard, eyes lit up in the lamp fire, a pale, finger-like sausage in its mouth, and for a moment I thought I had stepped not through the frame of my cabin door, but through the gates of some fiendish hell."

The Rat Tailed Monkey Duck is native to the deepest reaches of the old growth redwood forests of Northern California, where it subsists on grubs, insects, tubers, and the occasional fish. The Duck is actually a marsupial, and has a small pouch beneath the brightly colored crest of feathers on its chest. It uses the pouch to store fish and, when it can find one, the occasional shiny object (which is probably what it was looking for in Jack London's trash).

Aside from its unusual bill (at least for a marsupial), two things make the Rat Tailed Monkey Duck an unusual creature. One is its freakishly large human-like feet. Monkey Ducks can also grow to a length of seven feet and can walk upright, which has led many scientists to speculate that this odd marsupial might be at the root of the Bigfoot legends. Another is the creature's mating ritual, which is, strangely enough, an orgy. First three or more female Ducks get together and perform a rhythmic pounding on a dead tree or stump. Then follows the "Monkey Duck Booty Call", an amazing three part harmony that these female Monkey Ducks perform together. Males from all over the area will come to take part in the orgy, and will fight for the privilege, punching each other in the stomach repeatedly until only three are standing. The survivors and their female counterparts will launch into a frenzy of Monkey Duck sexual antics that can last for days. When it's finished, all three females will be pregnant, and all three males will be sterile.

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