5 Gifts That Animals Give Each Other

#EcoList of Things We Love

It’s the holiday season, a traditional time of giving gifts. Did you know that many other animals also give gifts in ritual exchanges? Here are some gifts animals give.

The scorpion fly is an impressive mini-beast with powerful, beak-like jaws and a posterior segment that looks like a scorpion stinger but is actually genitals. The male scorpion fly offers mates a nuptial gift of a ball of protein-rich saliva. (A nuptial gift is one presented as part of a mating negotiation.) Before you poo-poo this gift, you should know that this isn’t just any ball of saliva, but a gigantic ball of saliva, equaling up to 10 percent of the fly’s body weight. The female scorpion fly, if pleased, eats the saliva ball.

By Brooke Barker, author of the bestselling book Sad Animal Facts. Find more animal facts and buy the book at sadanimalfacts.com.

Males of the species Paratrechalea ornata, a spider from South America, wrap prey in silk and then carry these packages, holding them high in their mouths, as offerings to females in the vicinity. Unfortunately some of these spider bachelors scam their sweethearts by hiding low-value, low-nutrient gifts (such as already-consumed prey or vegetation) under the gift-wrapping. Douchebaggery knows no species limits.

The great grey shrike is a songbird. Sounds like a pleasant sort of animal, but this bird possesses the personality of a Cormac McCarthy villain, exhibiting the grisly habit of skewering its prey on thorns or barbed wire. After impaling its prey — large insects, frogs, toads, fish, lizards, mice, voles, stoats, bats and even other birds — the shrike tears off bite-sized pieces to eat.

A shrike’s collection of kebab-ed carcasses is called a “larder.” During mating season, male shrikes place their larders in conspicuous locations where they can be seen and admired by potential partners, a gift that testifies to the hunting might of the giver.

P.S. Don’t Google “shrike larder” unless you’re in a Saw kind of mood.

In 2015 a news story about a special relationship between crows and a Seattle kid went viral. Eight-year-old Gabi Mann fed wild crows, placing food on trays and feeders in her back yard on a daily basis. The crows gave Gabi gifts in return, depositing their offerings on the emptied food trays. Most of the crows’ gifts were small, shiny objects: pieces of glass, buttons, earrings, beads, paperclips and bits of metal hardware. According to John Marzluff, professor of wildlife science at the University of Washington, Gabi’s relationship with the crows, although uncommon, has been observed before. In an interview with Katy Sewell for the BBC, he said, “I have seen an awful lot of things crows have brought people.”

Many of us have had a pet cat bring us a dead or almost-dead animal that we may have received as a gift. But cat behaviorists tell us that these offerings are not gifts at all, but rather lessons. Apparently, your cat brings you prey because it’s noticed that you don’t hunt, and is concerned about your lack of this critical skill, and is trying to teach you how it’s done. So get with the program! You’re disappointing your cat.

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The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places. More info at www.biologicaldiversity.org.