A series of photos of a male kangaroo supposedly embracing a dying female captivated the internet this week, with some media outlets presenting the images as rare snapshots of love and grieving in the wild.
To many non-experts on social media, the male eastern grey kangaroo appeared to be lovingly cradling the female's head as she lay dying — apparently so she can get one last look at her joey, who is watching closely nearby — before passing into the kangaroo afterlife.
But to at least one scientist who actually knows what he's talking about, the photos were "fundamentally misinterpreted."
According to Mark Eldridge, principal research scientist at the Australian Museum in Sydney, the male kangaroo is clearly "sexually aroused."
"The evidence is here sticking out from behind the scrotum (yes, in marsupials the penis is located behind the scrotum)," Eldridge said in a blog posted to the museum's website Thursday.
"This is a male trying to get a female to stand up so he can mate with her."
The photos were, as it turns out, less romantic than they originally appeared.
Indeed, Derek Spielman, a senior lecturer in veterinary pathology at the University of Sydney, told the Guardian newspaper that the male may have even caused the injuries that resulted in the death of the female.
Some on social media used the story as a reminder of the dangers of projecting human emotions onto animals.
And that's why you should never try to anthropomorphise animals by projecting human emotions...— @adamliaw
Incredible photograph of a kangaroo contemplating David Bowie's contribution to progressive gender politics. pic.twitter.com/4IQR0kKMss— @adamliaw
So sad. A tiny joey pauses to imagine a free Europe, undivided by racial tension and political ideology. pic.twitter.com/uB4luBHue3— @adamliaw