Posts Tagged ‘Chicken’

Hen mothers for ducklings, cross-fostering species

// August 25th, 2011 // 1 Comment » // Sex and Reproduction

hen and ducklings

Image by cod_gabriel

When I was young and living on a small farm in the Adelaide Hills, we used to raise ducklings under chickens. The hens were more inclined to sit and warm the eggs, and once hatched were better at protecting their young from rats. So we took duck eggs, placed them under brooding hens, and everything was cheery.

Those hens loved them little ducks, at least, they looked after them just as well as they did their own chicks. They’d go out foraging together, chattering away in their different tongues at a handful of scattered grain. But there was one place where their differences became obvious. The pond.

At the first sight of water, the ducklings would be in and swimming, having a great time duck-diving underwater and eating duckweed. Meanwhile, mother hen would be going absolutely spare! You could almost hear the concerned clucks saying “now get out of that water at once! Don’t you know you can’t swim? Oh heavens, what have I done to deserve such unruly children?”

What she’d done, somewhat unintentionally, was to be a cross-foster mother. A species which raises children of another species.

Peahen and guineafowl chicks

Image by Chicago Zoological Society

Chicago’s Brookfield Zoo recently raised two clutches of guineafowl chicks with peahen mothers. The parents protected their brood from hawks, and showed them the ropes of living free-range in the zoo – such as how to avoid pedestrians.

From the press release:

“‘Zoogoers may not notice anything unusual between the moms and chicks, but there are definitely differences and several barriers that they needed to overcome, including language and behaviors,’ said Tim Snyder, curator of birds for the Chicago Zoological Society, which manages Brookfield Zoo. ‘The first two weeks were a little precarious because the chicks needed to learn what the peahens’ vocalization meant and adapt to different behaviors that are not instinctual to them.’

“For instance, Guineafowl chicks naturally scatter and hide when frightened or threatened, while peachicks run toward their mother. Additionally, Guineafowl moms and chicks move as a group and help care for each others’ young, which is the opposite of independent peafowl.”

Black Robin on Rangatira Island

Image by Frances Schmechel

Cross-fostering for conservation helped bring Black Robins from the brink of extinction. In 1980, only five survived in the wild on Little Mangere island in New Zealand, including a just one fertile female called Old Blue.

Each Spring, the first clutch of eggs was raised under a Chatham Island tit, giving Old Blue time to breed twice in the season.

Bit by bit the population has crawled back and is now a relatively comfortable 250 individuals. The fostering program has been used as a model for other endangered bird species.

Meet half-hen half-rooster all-awesome chicken

// March 14th, 2010 // 4 Comments » // Sex and Reproduction, The Realm of Bizzare

While we’re on the topic of gender bending animals, this chicken is half-hen and half-rooster. Epic.

Ed Yong wrote about it a couple of days ago, but apparently it was a very complex paper and I didn’t get his explanation. So without further ado, have some speculation from yours truly!

In humans, most of your cells are gender neutral. Sure, they’ll have the sex chromosomes in there, good old X and Y (or just XX if your a lady pirate like m’self). But those chromosomes don’t much matter to them. It’s hormones that control development. Pump in some female hormones and a man will grow lovely lady lumps. Pump male hormones into females and they’ll get a chestal region of the flat and hairy variety. Hormones hormones hormones.

Chickens are not people.

Chickens don’t have X’s and Y’s. They have Z’s and W’s, where ZZ=male and ZW=female. A bit like frogs, which are also a gender murky species imho.

In a chicken it matters what the cell is. If a chicken with ZW chromosomes is pumped full of male testosterone, it still looks like a hen. I think. That’s my understanding! Not to say that hormones have absolutely no effect, they’re still an important part of chicken life. They’re just not as important for defining gender when the chick goes through puberty.

The chicken above is the result of an experiment where they injected some female cells into a male embryo. One side ended up with more female cells and the other had more male cells. Voila.

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