Monday, November 22, 2010

Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick: Turkey Beard? Weird!

Our favorite guest blogger is back again and this time he's talking turkey. It's Twig Walkingstick!  Twig lives in and around the Wooster campus of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. His alter ego is Kurt Knebusch, one of our super-talented writers and editors on campus. Each month, look for Twig to answer a reader questions and some additional interesting facts below. After Twig's post, we will be providing some ideas and suggestions on how to incorporate the info in Twig's column into fun science learning for your students and children.

Q. Dear Twig: Did you know that turkeys have beards?

A. Actually, I did know that. And I don't get to say that very often. Ha! Wait, not funny.

The "beard" of the turkey hangs down from the middle of the turkey's chest. It doesn't hand down from his chin. Though that would be cool if it did. It looks like a long, skinny, long-haired tail. Like the tail of a horse if the horse were as big as a miniature poodle and the tail were on the front, not the back. Scientists call the "hairs" of the beard "bristles of  "mesofiloplumes" ("MEZ-uh-FILL-uh-ploomz") - stiff, feather-like structures.

A male turkey, called a tom, starts to grow a beard at about 11 weeks old. The beard gets longer as the tom gets older. Sometimes it gets up to 12 inches long. It helps the tom attract females, or hens. A big, long beard means a big, strong tom. Or at least an older one. One that knows what it takes to survive, to not get eaten by a fox or an owl, and live to a long-bearded age. Hens dig that.


P.S. The wild turkey's scientific name: Meleagris gallopavo. Some hens have beards, too.


Notes from Twig: 
  • In the wild, in wild turkeys, most toms and some hens have beards. Also: some toms have more than one!
  • On farms, in farm turkeys, some toms don't have beards, some hens have them, and either way most of those beards are shorter than the beards of wild turkeys in the wild. (Wild!)
  • To learn just about everything you might ever want to know about turkey beards, read The Beard of the Wild Turkey by A.F. Schorder in the October 1957 issue of the journal The Auk. (Wing bump to the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation for the tip!)
  • Keen on turkeys? Want to try raising one? Try the Ohio 4-H Project #166, Raising turkeys.
You can clearly see the beard on the chest of this eastern subspecies of wild turkey.
Photo courtesy of Larry Price and the National Wild Turkey Federation.

Using this information for education:
This is a great time of year for students to learn about turkeys and have some fun, too! Thanksgiving is a great time to learn about the differences between today's domestic turkeys and wild turkeys. You might not this so, but the difference is huge...and it's not just the color difference!

For a fun activity to teach students about the purpose of the difference features and characteristics of wild turkeys and a little more about the science of adaptation, be sure to check out our post from earlier this month on turkey survival!

1 comment:

  1. Hubby just pointed out the beard on one of the "toy" turkeys we have...he said even white turkeys have a dark beard!


Related Posts with Thumbnails