Are weasels able to fly? According to a photo captured by Martin Le-May, an amateur photographer, they can if they hitch a ride on a woodpecker’s back!
On his photo which went viral quickly after being posted, we see a weasel clutching on the back of a European green woodpecker, possibly as a result of a predatory attack gone wrong.
According to Le-May, he took the photo while visiting Hornchurch Country Park in east London and his presence may have saved the life of the bird. Namely, he believes they may have distracted the weasel as when the woodpecker landed it escaped and the weasel went into the grass.
However, just because something is so cute, doesn’t mean it is always true, especially if we know about Photoshop. Could this photo be a fake?
According to Hany Farid, a professor of computer science at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire who researches digital forensics and image analysis, forging this type of image would be quite the task.
He explains that the image’s low resolution impedes a detailed analysis; however, there are other factors one can take into account. To begin, since the weasel is practically hugging the woodpecker, forging this image would be quite challenging.
One would need to perfectly align two animals in the original photos in order to be combined together. So, this forgery is much more challenging than, for example, putting two animals standing side by side.
Le-May also shared other photos of the scene which is another sign that the images are probably genuine because altering two or more photos is even more challenging.
Farid emphasizes that there isn’t any lighting, focus, color or quality differences between the bird and the weasel. All in all, he doesn’t see proof that the photo is not real.
If the image is genuine, what situations have led to this scorpion-and-tortoise-like-story?
Even though it appears as a bizarre event, it’s not that surprising if we learn more about these two species.
Namely, European green woodpeckers feed with ants and spend a lot of time on the ground. So, this foraging attitude makes the birds vulnerable to attacks from predators, in this situation, a hungry weasel.
Least weasels are carnivores and they usually eat mice and voles, but also prey upon animals bigger than themselves like frogs, rabbits, and birds. The weasel’s “signature” move is to damage the spinal cord of the prey by biting their neck and this is what we’re witnessing in the photo.
Though it is an amazing one, it is more amazing that Le-May documented such a glorious moment. Our natural world is full of wonders and if we get outside, we can observe and experience such events firsthand.