SCIENCE BEHIND THE NEWS: Teens kidnap town’s beloved swan and eat her.

Swans have been a beloved part of the Manlius community in upstate New York for over a hundred years. Particularly cherished was Faye, a swan that spent more than ten years in the village’s public pond. Thus, it was a shock to the community when three teenagers kidnapped Faye, killed, and ate her.

According to reporting done by the New York Times, the culprits, unaware of the swans’ significance to the community, mistook the bird for a large duck. After trespassing into Goose Lake Park just after midnight, they captured Faye and four baby swans, leaving Faye’s partner, Manny, behind. The birds were then taken to a relative’s home where they were cooked and consumed in a gathering.

Once the swans were reported missing, information from locals led the police to the baby swans, still alive, and eventually to the teenagers. One of the teenagers, Eman Hussen, and two others, who are minors, were charged with felony counts of grand larceny and criminal mischief, as well as misdemeanor counts of conspiracy of theft and criminal trespassing. Court proceedings for the accused are ongoing.

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Swans have been a part of Manlius’s culture since 1905. Faye, donated to the village in 2010, was especially loved, and residents often visited her by the pond. Mute swans like Faye were imported from Europe in the late 1800s and require a special permit for ownership in New York.

Mute swans, known scientifically as Cygnus olor, are an iconic species, particularly revered for their elegant appearance and serene demeanor. Despite the ‘mute’ label, these swans are not silent but make a variety of sounds, including hisses, whistles, and grunts, especially when defending their territory.

Mute swans are believed to have evolved from a group of waterfowl called Anseriformes, which also includes ducks and geese. Fossil evidence dating back millions of years suggests that early ancestors of today’s swans had a widespread distribution across Europe, Asia, and North America.

The evolution of these swans seems to have been significantly influenced by their aquatic environment. Their long, curved neck, for instance, is a distinct adaptation that allows them to forage deep underwater for vegetation. They also have a large, powerful body, making them capable swimmers, with wings that are strong enough for long-distance flight, enabling them to migrate between regions.

Mute swans are further distinguished by their knobbed orange bill, another adaptive feature, enabling better grip and handling of underwater vegetation. The bright color might also play a role in mate selection, signaling health and vitality to potential partners.

Interestingly, mute swans have also adapted to human-induced changes in the environment. In many places, they have become semi-tame, living in parks and public waterways. Despite being introduced in several regions outside their native range, mute swans have proven to be successful invaders, often outcompeting native species for resources. This survival trait attests to their resilience and versatility, key aspects of their evolutionary success.

So far, it is unclear why the teenagers wanted to eat the swan.

“It wasn’t because they were lacking in food,” Sergeant Ken Hatter of the Manlius Police Department told the New York Times. “They were hunting.”

The surviving baby swans in Manlius have been entrusted to a local biologist until they are fit to return to the pond. Concerns about Manny’s potential aggression towards the baby swans after losing his mate might require him to be relocated. Officials hope that two of the baby swans will pair up, keeping the village’s swan tradition alive. Despite the shocking incident, the town remains determined to preserve their cherished swans.

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