April 16, 2021
While fishing at the lake on Monday I came across and odd duck I had never seen before. It had a brown body, white neck, and green head. What set it apart was the tuft of brown feathers sticking up on top of its head. When I tried to find the duck online, I came across an article in the British online tabloid, “Mirror” that mentioned another duck with similar head feathers. This was from 2015 as the race for presidential candidates was in full swing. The article likened the duck to the hairstyle of one of the presidential candidates. They claimed, “the male mallard’s unusual ‘hairpiece’ makes him look the spitting image of the 69-year-old Republican candidate.” The Mirror went on to claim the ducks tuft was caused by a genetic mutation that was the result of cross breading. While that may be an interesting correlation it did not identify my duck.
I continued my search and finally came across what is called a crested duck. The crested duck or South American crested duck (Lophonetta specularioides) is a species native to South America, belonging to the monotypic genus Lophonetta. There are two subspecies: L. specularioides alticola (Andean crested duck) and L. specularioides specularioides (Patagonian crested duck). The Patagonian crested duck is also called the southern crested duck and its range lies in the Falklands, Chile, and Argentina. Again, interesting but I did not think this duck was an immigrant from South America.
I remembered my encounter with the domesticated Muscovy duck and began to wonder if this might be another form of domestic duck. I found there was a domestic species of crested duck. All domestic ducks (Anas platyrhynchos domesticus) have the same species name, and apart from the Muscovy are all a sub species of the mallard (Anas platyrhynchos). Individual domestic breeds are not individual species and do not each have their own scientific name. Paintings as old as 2000 years have depicted images of a bird, resembling a crested duck with an assortment of feathers on top of its skull. In the United States the breed was described by D.J. Browne in 1853. The crest is a result of genetic mutation, where the duck is born with a gap in its skull that is filled with a growth of fatty tissue. The feathers then sprout in a different way to the normal smooth feathers seen on a duck’s head. By sticking straight up, they form the crested tuft on top of the head.
Thoughts: When I showed the photo of the crested duck to Melissa, she immediately asked if the duck had a mouse on its head. When I looked, I had to admit that it did look to be the case, even though I knew it was not. I did have to wonder how a genetic mutation caused by interbreeding has resulted in what now is considered a domestic breed of duck. When I think about the corona virus, we are seeing a genetic mutation that is not only viable but continuing to mutate into different variants. Seeing microscopic pictures of the virus, it does look like it is crested. Since the vaccines are recognizing and attacking the proteins on the outside of the virus rather than the virus itself, it seems to work across all the variants. That gives me hope moving forward, even as people increasingly ignore the CDC guidelines. Follow the science. Change is coming and it starts with you.