Monday, February 13, 2012

Nightmares of a six foot turkey

One of the most common complaints of the stick-in-the-mud 'I heart the 1990s' crowd regarding fully feathered-up restorations of (predominantly) dromaeosaurs is that they end up resembling some form of oversized, toothy poultry, typically chickens or turkeys. Obviously, this is absurd foremost because there are plenty of birds with better public images to choose from when making such a comparison. On the other hand, it also implies that the person lodging said complaint hasn't been around turkeys recently, because turkeys are awesome. The little brat in Jurassic Park clearly didn't consider that even a literal six foot turkey would be potentially bloody terrifying. Particularly if it had long fingers with huge claws to grab you with.

More than this, turkeys - being very familiar and common domestic birds (I'm referring to Meleagris gallopavo here) - are excellent for education. Tom Holtz wrote a superb guest post for Dave Hone's Archosaur Musings back in 2009, which included a handy diagram illustrating the dinosaurian traits of a turkey's skeleton. In addition, their often quite grotesque and fantastical facial protuberances (which Darren Naish has blogged about before) are a perfect demonstration of how sexual selection can produce some truly bizarre results, and also how a living animal can look very different from what its skeleton might imply. While pointing out how this can be applied to palaeoart is not remotely new (SV-POW did it ages ago, for example, and one can point to a lot of Luis Rey's work), there's no harm in delivering a timely reminder now and then.

Really, though, this whole post was just an excuse to publish photos of some freaky freaky turkeys. And here they are. These specimens are to be found roaming free in Tilgate Park Nature Centre. Enjoy! And try not to picture a man-sized turkey waving its gigantic snood in your face. It'll give you nightmares.










9 comments:

  1. The Turkey's reputation suffers due to the fact that most people only think of the domesticated version - the one so altered by selective breeding that it can no longer fly, or even mate due to the excessively oversized breast.

    Watching the flocks of two-dozen or so wild turkeys that wander across my back yard during the winter, I get a very different impression. They are big enough, and in a large enough flock, to handle anything small, and they can fly well enough to avoid anything large that comes along. The flock stays alert for ambushes. And watching the alpha male rear back, flap his wings, and assert himself is like peering back into the Mesozoic era.

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  2. Totally agree, Scott! I absolutely love chancing upon a flock of wild turkeys on misty mornings here.

    Also, for those who haven't seen it, Trish Arnold's got a piece in the new Art Evolved gallery that makes this same point. http://blogevolved.blogspot.com/2012/02/feathered-dinosaur-gallery.html

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  3. I'm surprised you didn't mention "My Life As A Turkey", especially given Trish Arnold's recent blog post ( http://babbletrish.blogspot.com/2012/02/my-life-as-turkey-sketches.html ). I wasn't expecting a doc about gallinaceous birds to be especially interesting, but it was. When learning about wild turkey ecology, I couldn't help but feel like I was watching primitive maniraptors (Maybe Avimimus?). Besides that, I got attached to Hutto's turkeys & felt for Hutto when he lost them 1 way or another.

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  4. Marc probably hasn't seen it yet, since PBS doesn't make it available in the UK.

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    1. I haven't seen it yet, no. Slipped under my radar (doesn't help that it's an American show).

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  5. Aside from that great "My Life as a Turkey" Nature episode, I highly recommend the 2011 "Poultry Slam" from NPR's This American Life. It includes the most hard-to-believe, badass turkey story I've ever heard, complete with interviews from the very people who were terrorized by this turkey! Hopefully this link will work for everyone:

    http://castroller.com/Podcasts/ThisAmericanLife/2714336

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  6. My dad raised gamecocks because they are beautiful. Mean bastards, but very beautiful. They aren't much like chickens. Gamecocks (and gamehens too for that matter) aren't flock birds. They are VERY territorial and will do their very best to kill ANYTHING that intrudes on their territory. Size doen't intimidate them. When they would escape, they would terrorise the neighbors. They have quite a set of spurs and would tear your pants apart and leave bloody wounds on your legs.
    I still (I'm over 50) have nightmares about those roosters chasing me. It got so bad that I kept a hotshot (cattle prod) by the door when I went out just in case the gamecocks had escaped.

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  7. Complete tangent, but when you mentioned birds with better public image, it just occurred to me: has anyone attempted a restoration of a theropod with Bald Eagle colouring? 'Cause there's no way anyone would diss a Bald Tyrannosaurus or Bald Raptor. That would be UN-AMERICAN.

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    1. There is this Deinonychus by Nobu Tamura: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Deinonychus_BW-2.png

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