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 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.

Incertae sedis (1). A very early report (16th century) describes a creature with the body of a dog and the head of a fowl. The crude drawing that accompanied the report is reproduced below. One might suppose that such an animal should be classified under the heading of dog × bird. However, the fact that the report says it was birthed by a woman means that the classification of this report is unclear (thus, incertae sedis). It was first described by Ambroise Paré (c. 1510-1590), personal physician to French kings Henry II, Francis II, Charles IX and Henry III. Paré is remembered as a pioneer of modern surgery, forensic pathology, and battlefield medicine. His brief account (Paré 1641, p. 666) of this specimen reads as follows:

In the year 1571 at Antwerp, the wife of a journeyman printer by the name of Michel, living in the lodging house of one Jean Mollin at the sign of the golden foot in Camel Street, gave birth on St. Thomas Day [i.e., December 21], at ten o'clock in the morning, to a monster having the exact body of a dog except that it had an extremely short neck and a head that was neither more nor less than that of a fowl, though the creature lacked hair. It came before term, stillborn. [Translated by E. M. McCarthy. Original French.]
    ‡ The word used in the original French was volaille, which roughly means “poultry.” In the present context, given the shape of the beak depicted in the illustration, it could refer to chicken, turkey or guineafowl.
dog-fowl-human hybrid Dog with the head of a fowl. first reported by Paré, as pictured in Aldrovandi (1642, p. 443).

Incertae sedis (2). A nineteenth century news story reports an animal that might fit under the heading of this cross (dog × turkey). However, from the description given, there is some doubt about whether the report should be classified in that way (thus, incertae sedis). At any rate, the story appeared appeared on page 2, column 4, of the February 25, 1897, issue of the Freeland Tribune, a newspaper published in Freeland, Pennsylvania (source):


It Has the Face of a Cat, Tail of a
Turkey and Feet of a Dog

    The queerest freak of nature ever seen in that section of the country, and what is said to be the queerest bird ever discovered, flew into a tree on Jesse Branthoover's farm, six miles from Apollo, Pa., several days ago and has since been in captivity. That it is a bird seems certain, because it has wings which are certainly more than three feet long, but in other respects it is difficult to classify. Its face is that of a cat, its feet resemble those of a dog and its tail is similar to those of the turkey. Its beak and talons are as sharp as those of an eagle, and it has great spurs like a gamecock. [turkeys also have large spurs, while eagles have none]
    From all the country miles around people have come to look at the monstrosity, but no one has been able to identify it. Farmer Branthoover was plowing his field when he saw the bird in a tree. He fired at it, and, one of its wings being wounded, it fell to the ground. Then the farmer attempted to pick it up, but a fight which lasted for half an hour ensued, and the sharp beak and talons inflicted wounds the scars of which Branthoover still carries. At last the farmer's son Ned came to the rescue, and together they succeeded in capturing the queer bird, which has since been confined in the granary.
    Many attempts were made to photograph the thing before the effort was successful. The bird would fly into a rage and jump around, as it always does upon the approach of a human being.
    The bird measures 18 inches from the top of its head to the tip of its body. The wings are three feet ten inches long and the legs only two inches long. It grunts and barks like a dog.

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