Reserving judgment is a matter of infinite hope.
—F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Great Gatsby
An alleged dog-turkey hybrid (from Eller 1770)|
Mounted skeleton of an alleged dog-turkey hybrid (from Eller 1770)
The distinguished eighteenth-century German chemist and medical doctor Johann Theodor Eller (1689-1760) served as personal physician to King Wilhelm I and, later, to Wilhelm’s famous son Frederick the Great. As a student, Eller had studied abroad at the best medical schools in Europe. He was the first physician in Germany to variolate patients against smallpox.
Frederick the Great|
Johann Theodor Eller
While serving as Frederick’s doctor, Eller published a paper (Eller 1756) in which he described and pictured an alleged dog-turkey hybrid. It had the body of an ordinary small dog but a turkey-like head (see figures at right). What follows is a translation of the relevant portion of the text (reprinted in Eller 1770, pp. 181-182).
A few months before the paper was written, Eller says, Berlin had witnessed the birth of “a little dog, the head of which resembled that of a turkey [Meleagris gallopavo]. The resident who witnessed the birth of this monstrous little beast gave it to a surgeon of my acquaintance, from whom I obtained it. The owner informed him that
In the eighteenth century, it was widely believed that the exposure of a mother to a particular animal, especially an exposure that frightened her, could result in a child within the womb taking on the characteristics of that animal. Thus, it was thought that a woman frightened by a dog stood an increased chance of giving birth to a dog-faced baby. For this reason, the dog’s owner thought the mere fact of the mother’s being chased by the turkey was enough to account for the turkey-like head of her "pup." But no scientist today would accept a psycho-spiritual explanation of this sort.
Turkey interacting with a dog:
|Note: It has been my policy in listing reports of hybrids to include all serious allegations, especially those of scholars, whether or not the hybrid alleged seems possible or likely to me. This policy, I think, helps to eliminate subjective judgment on my part, and therefore should remove at least one source of systematic bias from my work. It also helps to fulfill the ethical obligation of telling not just the truth, but the whole truth.|
A hawk-headed dog
The German Jesuit and scientist Gaspar Schott (1608-1666) records that the Belgian physician Cornelius Gemma (1535-1578) claimed to have seen in his youth a dog with a head like a hawk’s (Schotti 1662, p. 665). This old and dubious report is included here merely for the sake of completeness.
So what was this creature? Today, really only two possibilities are worth considering: (1) a strange pup affected by a mutation that coincidentally caused its head to take on various characteristics of a turkey’s (and that was coincidentally birthed by a dog that had been regularly harassed by a turkey); or (2) a dog-turkey hybrid. Of course, it could be that the entire account is a hoax, but this last option seems rather far-fetched given Eller’s lofty reputation.
The following is a list of dog crosses discussed on this site. Some of these crosses are much better documented than others (as indicated by the reliability arrow). Moreover, some are extremely disparate, and so must be taken with a large grain of salt. But all have been reported at least once.
By the same author: Handbook of Avian Hybrids of the World, Oxford University Press (2006).
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