SciSun: Love in Boom   Leave a comment

Cupid, a god of ancient Rome (the Romans believed in two types of gods: Major gods, who controlled things like weather, the ocean, and destiny itself – and could cause a lot of trouble if they didn’t like you – and Minor gods, who were more concerned with human day-to-day life, such as the Goddess of bread-baking and the God of weeding), was revered among that Classical Civilization as the powerful god of love and attraction. Only though the help of Cupid could one find and hold love. Online dating sites hadn’t caught on yet. (Cupid started out as a single being, but later became multiple Cupids as best fit whatever story was being told at the time, resulting in the numerous little winged baby cuipids, with bow and arrow in hand, now seen as symbols of the occasion). Today, on Valentines Day (which may itself be the remaining fragment of a Roman holiday), we’re not concerned about what Cupid, the matchmaker, might mean to us; but, how that name became associated with, of all things, a medium-size prairie-living bird.

Tympanuchus cupido is the Greater Prairie Chicken. A member of the Grouse family (along with Sage Grouse and Ptarmigan), the Prairie Chicken is not a chicken, but was named after its size, shape, and somewhat similar coloration to the typical farm chicken known to many pioneers of the 1800’s. Once numbering in the hundreds of thousands across America’s Midwest, from northern Texas to Minnesota, by the 1930’s the species was nearly extinct due to loss of habitat, environmental pressures, previously unknown predators (dogs and cats), and, of course, that unfortunate resemblance to chickens when a typical Midwestern Sunday dinner was chicken with all the fixens’.

The species is now slowly recovering, but how was a weekends’ dinner named for the Roman god of love? Particularly as these birds aren’t normally associated with Valentines; like the Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur); or sweethearts, such as Lovebirds (genus Agapornis); nor do Prairie Chiks make any appearances at weddings, or on the covers of Valentines day cards. The name probably refers to booming, a behavior not supporting a college football team but rather an annual Spring event where male Chiks gather together at booming grounds – called leks – and perform elaborate dances for females, who are observing nearby. While none of the birds are known to break out into any of the latest dances, they do have the tried-and-true moves of stomping their feet while walking in small circles; fanning and un-fanning their tail and head feathers; inflating and deflating colorful air sacks on their necks; and making deep ‘booming’ and ‘chucking’ sounds. Very similar to what many guys do at the club every Saturday night.

While this behavior might not necessarily be what’s expected of a Cupid, it does fall into the category of attraction and love – whenever a female chick decides that one special sac-inflating circle-walking tail-snapping male is the one for her. And because of this, scientists (who often name discoveries based upon classical figures; or location; or themselves); decided to title the bird after an ancient Roman deity representing love. Which, for a Prairie Chicken, is a much better name than ‘dinner’.


Michonne Says: Anyone who walks in circles stomping their feet and shakes their tail and makes strange deep sounds and worse of all, inflates pouches on their neck doesn’t sound right. I think these chickies need to take a long rest until they feel better and don’t want to do these strange things any more.

Posted February 14, 2016 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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