Animal of the Week: Ocellated Turkey

Patrick Barnette

Today marks a monumental historical event: the release of the very first OES Dig animal of the week segment. 

This Wednesday the OES Upper School is going to be released for Thanksgiving break, so naturally, this first segment of Animal of the Week would be about the iconic poultry that graces the Thanksgiving dinner table, turkey—right? Actually, no! That would be boring, and nobody would ever read animal of the week ever again. 

So, without abandoning the general Thanksgiving-ish theme, we are going to instead be talking about some fun animals that are related to turkeys. Specifically, we are going to be talking about a couple of animals from the family phasianidae (if you are not sure of what I mean by family, go and read the Pre-Article from last week). The family that contains the turkey and its close relatives is actually surprisingly diverse, including pheasants, grouse, chickens, peacocks, and many others. The class which contains the family is also tied for the oldest of modern birds with the class that contains ducks and waterfowl. Fossils that displayed similar features to these groups date back to the K-T extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs. 

The animal we are looking at today is not the most visually incredible of its family, considering that phasainidae contains peacocks, but I chose it because it is so little-known. 
The oscillated turkey is the closest living relative of the wild turkeys found in the United States. These two species make up the genus Meleagris. Despite actually being one of the most distant phasainidae members from the peacock, the oscillated turkey actually shares a decent resemblance to one.

The turkey is native to the Yucatán Peninsula and can be found in parts of Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize. Much like the turkey and many of its more distant relatives, ocellated turkeys demonstrate strong sexual dimorphism, with the males being both considerably larger than the females and having some over-the-top plumage. Despite being counterproductive to avoiding predation, the plumage of ocellated turkeys and other similar birds is used to attract mates through a process known as sexual selection, where males with more impressive displays are selected by the females for breeding. In turkeys, a male is selected for the loudness of his gobble, the display of his plumage, the vibrance of his nodules (the weird orange things all over its face in the picture), and the length and engorgement of his snood, which is the blue thing that sits on the beak. 

I personally find this bird interesting because of how sexual selection drove its anatomy to such an extreme. While peacocks and many pheasants have beautifully-colored plumage and crests to attract mates, the ocellated turkey has gone to the point where it looks ridiculous.

Pictured is an ocellated turkey; its snood hands off to the left above its beak, and above its head is its red-tipped crest. Covering the top of its snood and crest are its orange nodules, which are also scattered around other parts of the head.

So now when you are sitting at the Thanksgiving dinner table listening to your uncle argue with somebody about politics, you can interrupt them and show them this weird relative of the bird they are eating.