Jacanidae – Jacanas

Known for their extended toes and toenails that help them spread out their weight efficiently

Jacanidae comprises a group of wading birds that are most notable for their adaptation to a life spent walking on floating vegetation in shallow lake areas, ponds, and wetlands in tropical regions around the world. Their extraordinarily long toes and claws distribute their weight so effectively that they can traverse lily pads and other aquatic plants without sinking, earning them the nickname “Jesus birds” for their ability to seemingly walk on water.

These birds are medium-sized with streamlined bodies for their unique ecological niche. The plumage of jacanas varies from species to species, with some exhibiting striking colors and patterns that play a role in sexual selection and camouflage.

A notable aspect of jacana society is their sex-role reversal. Females are larger and more brightly colored than males, which is unusual in the bird world, where males typically display more elaborate plumage. This size and coloration difference is linked to the jacanas’ polyandrous mating system, where a dominant female mates with multiple males during the breeding season. After laying eggs, the female may leave the males to incubate the eggs and care for the chicks, while she mates with other males. This breeding behavior is quite rare among birds but is a successful strategy in the resource-rich, stable environments jacanas inhabit.

Jacanas are found in tropical regions across the globe, including parts of Central and South America, Africa, Asia, and Australia. They feed on a variety of aquatic insects, invertebrates, and seeds, often foraging among the floating vegetation they inhabit.