World of Wonder: The Potoo -The Toast

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Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s previous World of Wonder columns for The Butter can be found here.

Here in Western New York, August means mosquitoes. It also means corn, means mosquitoes, means blueberries, means humidity, and means mosquitoes. Mostly mosquitoes. Seriously! I just counted five while having a coffee on my deck at 7:30 in the morning. What I wouldn’t give to have a little potoo bird (or three) in my backyard to catch those blood-thirsty beasties!

Nyctibius_jamaicensis Image via Wiki

Alas, the potoo (POT-too) only resides in central and south America, where they gobble up said mosquitoes and termites. Fully grown potoos are a little over a foot tall, and their traffic-light eyes make them look like they are seeing something horrifying. (You might have also recognized the potoo as the star of its very own “weird stuff I do” meme.)

It’s very easy to see why the potoo has been called “little more than a flying mouth and eyes,” but potoos are pretty much masters of disguise in the humid jungles of the southern hemisphere. So confident are they in their camouflaging skills that they just sleep right out in open daylight (they are nocturnal). They can close their giant eyes and freeze and position their cryptic feathers to resemble a broken tree branch, so even the sharpest eye can just barely figure out what is tree and what is bird:

Image via Wiki Image via Wiki

The potoo is one of the few birds that never builds a nest—males and females share baby-raising duties, each taking turns warming their single white egg with purple spots in a divot of a tree branch. When the baby potoo is born its feathers are pure white, and when it gets too large to safely hide under a parent, it learns how to freeze just so to resemble a patch of white mushrooms.

And so, Dear Readers—are there moments when you too would like to be cryptic? What animal’s camoflauging skills would YOU most like to have? Let me know below (bonus points for including a pic!).

Aimee Nezhukumatathil is the author of three books of poetry, most recently Lucky Fish. She is a professor of English and teaches poetry and environmental lit at a small college in Western New York. She is obsessed with peacocks, jellyfish, and school supplies. Follow her on Twitter: @aimeenez.

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