Why Are Biologists Excited About A Duck?


No one would ever miss an Australian musk duck if they ever had the chance of seeing one. The name of the duck was derived from the musky smell they emit during their mating or breeding season. What is more is that the males carry around a huge, black lobe directly beneath their bill.

However, if the musk duck that you are keeping company with goes by the name of Ripper. The other obvious giveaway that it is a musk duck, is that it swears. Yes, the duck has the ability to curse using human words. Undoubtedly, this is an extremely exciting discovery for scientists. There are even new studies being launched. In an effort to determine how some of these particular duck species ended up with such a remarkable trait.

According to the ethologists, the ability to acquire vocalizations simply by learning them. Whether from other individuals or species is limited to a handful of animal groups. The scientists with this responsibility have indicated that they provide evidence for vocal learning for a member of a basal clade within the avian phylogeny. Namely the Australian musk duck.

Ripper, the name of the duck that was hand-reared at the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, is located in the 1980s southwest of Australia’s capital Canberra. This special duck learned the remarkable trait of imitating the sound a slamming door makes. He was also able to make the sound that resembles the phrase, you bloody fool.

It is unknown to the researchers how Ripper ended up learning this uniquely Australian phrase. Even though it is thought that he likely picked it up from a caretaker repeating it frequently. Then the bird was able to learn it and repeat it.

Ripper was raised from a fresh egg which was sourced from Victoria, in the East Gippsland region, in Australia in 1983. It was the only musk dick that was present at the time of rearing. Regrettably, all the documents were destroyed in the wildfire that brushed through the reserve in 2003, resulting in serious difficulty in establishing all the exact details.

In 1998, a second duck, which was also male, was reared by a female duck in captivity, instead of a human caretaker in Tidbinbilla. It was reported that the duck was recorded sounding like a completely different breed of duck in 2000. He sounded like a Pacific black duck. Unfortunately, most of the information surrounding this duck was also destroyed in the same fire of 2003. However, researchers do know that these ducks used imitation sounds during the breeding seasons and mating displays.

Although these events took place some years ago, the details of the research are now being provided to the public. They are part of a special issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. This concentrated on vocal learning in both humans and animals.

The scientists declared that the sounds were described previously, however, they were never assessed in any great detail. They also went unnoticed by the scientists of vocal learning. In association with earlier observations of the differences in the vocal sounds between nonstandard vocalizations and populations in captive-reared animals. These observations prove the presence of advanced vocal learning that operates at a level akin to parrots and songbirds.

The reason that the scientists are currently interested is due to the fact that very limited animals have the ability to imitate sounds. Therefore, it is amazing that these musk ducks have this ability. Musk ducks are the only member of their genus that is still alive. Plus, they are very indistinctly related to birds of other species that could impersonate noises such as parrots and songbirds.

Thus, why is it that the musk duck is able to mimic? Fascinatingly, the section of the brain connected with vocal learning in parrots and songbirds, the telencephalon. Is comparatively larger in waterfowl than it is in various other bird groups. Although not completely certain, the scientists believe that the musk duck evolved the skill to mimic separately to other species that could mimic. Due to the fact that these birds are close to the end of the evolutionary bird tree. What this means is that if the ability evolved previously very early on, it was then lost several times over since then. Therefore, it would be more probable that it evolved separately several times instead.

According to the researchers, much more studies are required. As scientists do not know which living species is the closest related to the musk duck. Even so, there is no evidence that any other duck or fowl species has displayed this ability.