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.
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
Up until the early twentieth 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. 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.
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.
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):