A Gopher-chicken Hybrid?

Geomys bursarius × Gallus gallus

Hybrids out of History

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EUGENE M. MCCARTHY, PHD GENETICS

     
A diligent scholar is like a bee who takes honey from many different flowers and stores it in his hive.
John Amos Comenius
GopherPlains Pocket Gopher
Geomys bursarius

An ostensible chicken-gopher hybrid was reported on page 7, column 7, of the December 3, 1913, issue of the Willmar Tribune, a newspaper published in Willmar, Minnesota (source). The story originally ran in the Tyler Journal, published in Tyler, Minnesota. The following is a transcript of the report:

Freak Chicken

    A chicken with a gopher head is the freak that is being exhibited by John Lemon at his barber shop this week. The chicken was raised on Lemon’s farm west of town [Tyler, Minnesota], and is probably one of the greatest freaks ever discovered of the fowl kind. The hen has no beak, and the face and head resemble that of a gopher very much, while the body is that of a perfect chicken of the brown leghorn breed.
    A hen with a gopher head in the gopher state is something to take notice of.
    Mr. Lemon is dickering with the managers of several museums in the largest cities of the United States. As a curiosity the hen is worth considerable and the chances are that some museum will have the hen on exhibit within a short time.—Tyler Journal.
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.

There are many kinds of gophers, but given the location of the reported event (Tyler, Minnesota), the rodent in question would almost certainly be Geomys bursarius, the Plains Pocket Gopher. According to Wikipedia, these rodents spend 72 percent of their time underground, but do emerge in search of food or mates.

A similarly composite rodent-headed chicken, but in this case with the head of a rat, was briefly described on page 4, column 2, of the April 17, 1915, issue of the Scott County Kicker, a newspaper published in Benton, Missouri (source):

    Mrs. Tom McNeeley of near Benton was here recently and reported that she had a freak chicken that is blind and has a head that resembles the head of a rat. It eats and follows its mother.

Congenital blindness seems to be fairly frequent in distant hybrids, perhaps due to the disruption of ordinary developmental processes. Such hybrids are often born without eyes. Cyclopean births also appear to occur at elevated rates.

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Bibliography >>

Biology Dictionary >>

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


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