A Dog-turkey Hybrid?

Hybrids out of History



Reserving judgment is a matter of infinite hope.
—F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Great Gatsby
dog-turkey hybrid An alleged dog-turkey hybrid (Eller 1770)

dog-turkey hybrid skeleton Mounted skeleton of an alleged dog-turkey hybrid (Eller 1770)

A related report >>

This highly disparate cross, though reported, requires confirmation.

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 Frederick the Great

Johann Theodor Eller 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

Maternal impressions

In the past, 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. This notion was applied also to animals that gave birth to strange offspring with mixed characteristics. But no scientist today would accept a psycho-spiritual explanation of this sort.

the mother dog, which was of the smallest breed, while she was pregnant would amble about in the courtyard where this man kept, among others in a flock of poultry, a male turkey, which would not tolerate the little bitch, and had always chased her about, pecking her, and forcing her to retire into the house. This good man believed that the poor dog, always terrorized in this way, had imprinted on her young one the redoubtable weapons of her enemy the turkey cock. Having assiduously examined this little monster, which expired soon after birth, I found that the deformity affected only the head and neck. The rest of the body and the extremities exhibited only the ordinary structure of a dog. As for the monstrous head, it was somewhat ovoid in form, it lacked muzzle and nose, so that the lengthy jaws of a dog were here entirely absent. But in their place there was a rounded, pendulous process, composed of reddish flesh, which resembled, in its appearance and length, the wattle of a turkey. The diameter of this fleshy excrescence was, at its root, about 8 or 9 lignes [i.e., between eight- and nine-twelfths of an inch], but it was divided in the middle to receive a kind of beak, or rather a curved bone, which was entirely solid and without aperture, and about four lignes (four-twelfths of an inch) in diameter, and 12 lignes (one inch) long. It lacked any connection with the frontal bone, but instead was attached via a thin process to the temporal bones at the site where those bones join at the base of the skull. I found that the skull itself lacked any trace of orbits, so there was not the least trace of eyes. There were two ears at the base of the head where it met the neck. They were surrounded by a kind of deformed chin in the form of a raised pad studded with red papillae like those on a turkey’s skin. The little ears, of the same color, were hairless, and the auditory canals passed through the temporal bones at the base of the cranium. [Translated by E. M. McCarthy. (Original Text)]

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.

deer-cow hybrid Deer-cow hybrids?

One relevant fact that can be mentioned in connection with this cross is that dogs have been known to incubate turkey eggs and to care for the resultant hatchlings. Young turkeys subjected to such treatment would be imprinted on dogs when they reached sexual maturity and therefore likely to attempt to mate with dogs. Examples of a dog hatching and caring for turkeys appear in various news stories. For example, the following appeared on the front page of the April 20, 1894 issue of the The Pascagoula Democrat-Star, a newspaper published in Pascagoula, Mississippi (source):

    A Union County man has a setter dog that hatched out eighty-four young turkeys this season. This wonderful dog not only hatched out a brood of young turkeys, but looks after them with as much motherly care as any sensible turkey would have.

A related cross >>

Bird-mammal hybrids >>

By the same author: Handbook of Avian Hybrids of the World, Oxford University Press (2006).

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 list of dog crosses

The following is a list of reported 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.

sheep-pig hybrid Sheep-pig hybrids?
reliability arrow

Dog × Wolf >>

Coyote × Wolf >>

Dog × Dingo >>

Dog × Jackal >>

Dog × Coyote >>

Dog × Cow >>

Dog × Fox >>

Dog × Cat >>

Fox × Raccoon Dog >>

Dog × Maned Wolf >>

Dog × Bear >>

Dog × Primate >>

Fox × Raccoon >>

Dog × Sheep >>

Dog × Goat >>

Dog × Pig >>

Fox × Wolf >>

Dog × Horse >>

Dog × Rabbit >>

Dog × Turkey >>

Dog × Parrot >>

Dog × Hawk >>

Most shared on Macroevolution.net:

Human Origins: Are we hybrids?

On the Origins of New Forms of Life

Mammalian Hybrids

Cat-rabbit Hybrids: Fact or fiction?

Famous Biologists

Dog-cow Hybrids

Georges Cuvier: A Biography

Prothero: A Rebuttal

Branches of Biology

Dog-fox Hybrids