The Loh Down On Science

Crappy Rommate

Canestrari et al., Science, 12 May 2014

A cuckoo chick spews defensive goo onto a researcher's hand

Could living with a crappy roommate … save your life?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science, saying, yes!  If you're a bird.

Cuckoo birds are famous nest parasites.  Momma don’t build no nest.  She just plops her egg into the nest of another bird.  Sadly, hosts’ own chicks usually die.  They’re killed by the cuckoo mother or outcompeted for food by the cuckoo chick. 

Except in the case of the carrion crow.

Meet Daniela Canestrari from the University of Oviedo, Spain.  She monitored crow nests for 16 years.  And?  Up to 70 percent of crow homes were Birdler-ized by cuckoos.  But those that were?  Were 40 percent more likely to raise a successful crow chick.

Turns out that cuckoo chicks are natural predator repellants.  If a cat or other foe shows up?  The cuckoo blasts a nasty black goo out its backside.  When Canestrari slathered tasty meat with the goo and offered it to cats?  They wouldn’t touch it.

So cuckoo chicks help crow nestmates survive!

If in a very disgusting and irritating way.  Oh well.  That’s just one reason we might call them cuckoo. 

 

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The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, in partnership with the University of California, Irvine, and 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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