According to 1915 American news reports, a hen found on the farm of one John Bowser near Scottdale Pennsylvania had ears that stood erect like those of a fox terrier. No normal bird has external ears (pinnae), but dogs and most other mammals do. And it is also true that various YouTube videos document the fact that small dogs have been occasionally known to mate with hens. Further, it is well known that chickens will adopt the young of other types of animals, including dogs, as shown in the picture at right.
So the question then arises: Could the anomalous creature reported in these 1915 news stories have been a dog-chicken hybrid? If not, then one would have to suppose that some simple mutation in a chicken could somehow produce, de novo, such a complex structure as a terrier’s ear (or else that the reports were simply a hoax).
Stories about this bizarre lusus naturae, reconstructed at left, appeared in newspapers across the country that year, but one notice about this wonder-hen strutted onto page 8, column 2, of the April 5, 1915 issue of the The West Virginian, a newspaper published in Fairmont, West Virginia (source). A transcript reads as follows:
Freak Chicken Born With Terrier’s Ears
Another report, with additional information about this extraordinary fowl, appeared on the front page, column 2, of the April 26, 1915 issue of The Washington Herald, a newspaper published in Washington, D.C. (source). It reads as follows:
HEN HAS DOG’S EARS
Hundreds Flock to Pennsylvania
Farm to See Freak.
Scottdale, Pa., April 25.—The curiosity of residents for miles around has been aroused by the discovery of a hen with ears which stand erect like those of a dog, on the farm of John Bowser, near here, and hundreds of persons are visiting the farm to get a glimpse of it.
The ears are about three-quarters of an inch [~19mm] long and are growing from each side of the chicken’s comb.
A separate report in a New York newspaper stated that “The hen is otherwise normal and an excellent layer.” Scottdale is a borough in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, 49 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.
(Perhaps we will soon learn more about this case. A friend of mine who lives near Scottdale says he’s going to investigate local records and report back.)
A separate event was also reported later that same year. One notice about the event appears on page 6, column 6, of the June 20, 1915 issue of The Sunday Telegram, a newspaper published in Clarksburg, West Virginia (source). It reads as follows:
Chicken with a Dog Tail
Hatched in New Jersey
The freak chicken [is] equipped with the usual head and body, but has four legs and a curly tail, similar to that of a French poodle. Its color is deep black.
Lautenbach says that as soon as the freak shows a disposition to chase cats or bark at the moon he will have it tied up in a dog house or else sent to a sausage factory.
A longer story about the same hatchling appeared on page 15, column 7, of the June 16, 1915 issue of The Elizabeth Daily Journal, a newspaper published in Elizabeth, New Jersey, the city where the event occurred (source). It reads as follows:
Elizabeth Has New Freak
of Interest to Science
The latest wonder, the dog-tailed chicken, the only original ring-tailed roarer, is the product of the chicken yard of John Lautenbach, of 520 Spring Street. It arrived in this world to-day in company with a number of chickens of the usual type, and rumor has it that when its mother hen caught sight of it she immediately went out of her mind.
However that may be, the "Ring-tailed Roarer" is apparently as healthy as any of its relatives, and eats chicken or soup meat with complete impartiality. It is equipped with the usual head and body of a chicken, but has four legs and a curly tail much of the nature of a French poodle's. It is a deep black in color, and its feathers are something of a mixture, and contain a generous sprinkling of hair.
As far as is known, the egg from which the dog-tailed chick emerged was not unlike any of the others.
The new chick will be allowed to roam about at large with its fellows as long as it continues to be a chicken, but Mr. Lautenbach is determined that as soon as it shows a disposition to chase cats or bay at the moon he will have it tied up in the doghouse, or sent to the sausage factory.
The news story above, about a hen voluntarily adopting four puppies, appeared on the front page of the July 17, 1912 issue of the San Francisco Call (source).
A news story about a terrier voluntarily adopting eight chicks. It appeared on page 4 of the August 16, 1873 issue of the Wilmington Daily Gazette, an newspaper published in Wilmington, Delaware (source).
Incidentally, the Winsted, Connecticut freak referred to in the story just quoted was also relevant to the present topic in that it was a case of a dog lying on a nest of chicken eggs and hatching them out (four other examples of the same phenomenon: Example 1, Example 2, Example 3, Example 4). Dogs and chickens have also been known to befriend each other and work together to care for nests of eggs (Example 1, Example 2, Example 3).
In 1870, referring to a separate case, the Illinois Statesman, a newspaper published in Bloomington, Illinois mentions a museum exhibiting a chicken with a dog’s head (source).
And in another case, Recueil des actes de la séance publique de l'Académie impériale (1841, p. 39), a French language journal published by the Russian Imperial Academy of Sciences, reported that Karl Eduard Miram (1811-1887) had communicated an anatomical description, accompanied by illustrations, of a monstrous chicken with the face of a dog (source). Miram was a professor of physiology and anatomy, in which capacity he served as a prosector at the Lithuanian Medical and Surgical Academy at Vilna. Another source says that at a meeting of the Academy he lectured on a paper he had submitted for publication A Description of a Monstrous Hen with a Face like a Dog’s (Beschreibung eines monströsen Huhnes mit hundeähnlichem Gesichte). In the same place it was also stated that his paper had been recommended for publication, but the paper itself is yet to be located. This case should be compared with the better-documented case of a hen with a human face.