An amateur English photographer has captured what may just be one of the strangest animal photos ever – a weasel riding a woodpecker.
Martin Le-May and his wife were strolling through a park in London, hoping to spot a green woodpecker. And find one they did.
The bird’s distressed cries caught the couple’s attention.
Using binoculars, they saw the woodpecker desperately trying to shake something off its back.
“Just after I switched from my binoculars to my camera, the bird flew across us and slightly in our direction,” Mr Le-May told The New Daily.
“Suddenly it was obvious it had a small mammal on its back.”
The intentions of the furry little creature were clearly malicious, with the bird locked in “a struggle for life”, the photographer said.
Luckily for the woodpecker, which can reach about 35 centimetres in length, its rider seemed to be distracted by the couple’s presence, giving it just enough time to throw off the would-be killer and escape.
“The woodpecker seized the opportunity and flew up and away into some bushes away to our left,” he said. “The weasel just disappeared into the long grass, hungry.”
Weasels are known to be skilled and savage hunters, and often invade the burrows and nests of their prey, which may explain how the predator managed to hitch a ride.
South Australian biologist Dr David Peacock told The New Daily that “hell yeah” the photo could be real.
“My general animal knowledge would say that a weasel could and would attack birds, including a woodpecker,” he said.
“The weasel would have just tried to nail the woodpecker, and something went awry with his attack.
“It would have been in the process of trying to kill it.”
Strangely, there is an Australian precedent, Dr Peacock said.
In 1874, a farmer in New South Wales reportedly came across a wedged-tailed eagle fluttering along the ground with a quoll – a native small carnivore similar to a weasel – latched onto its wing.
“It is supposed they were engaged in combat as the [quoll] was pierced all over with holes as if the eagle had been striking it with its beak and when taken from under the wing of the bird had its mouth full of feathers,” The Argus reported at the time.
Photographer Martin Le-May insisted the photos were authentic, but some were not convinced.
“This is a fake photo if I ever saw one,” said US scientist Dan Graur on Twitter. “The uniform blurred background is pure photoshop.”
If authentic, let’s hope weasels never become intelligent, or we’ll all be doomed.
Feeling lazy. Going to take a woodpecker to work.
— Kay Hutt (@BHALush) March 3, 2015
That weasel/woodpecker photo shows that nature is amazing & that there is always something new to see.
— Jamie Wyver (@J__me) March 3, 2015