Monday, May 22, 2006

Animal of the Week May 22, 2006 -- Marriage special, the most metaphorical animal

Marriage special
In honour of the impending nuptials of my sister and my soon to be brother-in-tax break *ducks to avoid clips round the ear*, this week's animal is one of the classic examples of monogamy, an albatross, Diomedea epomophora (royal albatross) to be specific.

Like other albatrosses, royals pair for life. Within the first 10 years of their lives they'll arrive at a breeding ground, a single boy albatross and a single girl albatross will furtively glance at each other, he'll sidle up to her or she to he in these enlightened times, they'll do a courtship dance: head nodding, pointing their bills to the sky, braying, stretching out their wings and strutting around, sometimes flying in tandem, occasionally exchanging gifts of fish, then they will be married—S&D, is it too late to change the ceremony?

They'll immediately leave the breeding island and feed for a few weeks, building up their reserves on a piscivorous honeymoon. On returning to the island the female lays an enormous egg and will immediately fly out to sea to replenish the energy put into the egg. The male will incubate the egg until the female returns to take over the duties. The adults exchange egg and chick duties for the next year or so. Eventually, when the chick is old enough, they'll desert it, returning to the open ocean. The chick eventually fledges when hunger drives it to flight.

Every two years the pair will return to the same nest site, consolidate their bond with a replica of their marriage dance and repeat. These birds might live for over sixty years, so remain faithful to their partners for upwards of fifty. That is as long as they don't get snagged by a longline fishing vessel.

So, while not a model to replicate in your marriage (the months at sea may be difficult to manage), this one's for you S&D, wishing you the best for Saturday and beyond (what a present, eh? No-one else has got you this *gleefully puts away credit card and logs out of the wedding list*).


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