Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick: Turkey beards (for the week of Nov. 18, 2001)

October 31, 2001

Dear Twig: I’ve heard that turkeys have beards. Is that true? Don’t they shave? Ha ha ha. Ah, that’s a good one. In fact, it’s true that many turkeys have beards. And it’s also true that they don’t shave, mainly because they don’t have fingers to push the top of the shaving cream can. The beard of a turkey is actually a cluster of bristly, hairlike feathers. But it’s not on the face or the chin. It hangs on the front of the chest. It looks like a tail that’s on the wrong end. The beard appears on male turkeys, or toms, when the birds are about 11 weeks old. It’s designed to help them attract females, or hens. Conversely, the beard on male humans is designed to attract pizza sauce. In the wild, almost all toms and a very few hens have a beard. A few toms have such a very long beard that it actually drags on the ground! That’s the sign of a big, old gobbler, one who rules the roost. It’s different on the farm. Some toms don’t have a beard, some hens do, and in either case it’s shorter than those on wild turkeys. What do you know when you see a big bearded bird? It’s probably a male turkey. And it might be in ZZ Top. Mercy! Twig Hey Editor! Karl Nestor, professor, Department of Animal Sciences, Ohio State University, provided the information for and reviewed this column. "Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick," a service of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, is a weekly science column for kids. "Twig" is a bow tie-wearing cartoon walkingstick, a type of insect. He's the voice of the column and appears at the left in the hard-copy version. "Bob the Bug," Twig's pal, is a bald-headed bug of an unidentified type who doesn't say much and appears in the bottom-right corner. For more information or to receive "Twig" columns by mail or e-mail, contact Kurt Knebusch, 1680 Madison Ave., Wooster, OH 44691, (330) 263-3776, knebusch.1@osu.edu.

Author(s): 
Kurt Knebusch
Source(s): 
Karl Nestor