The turkey is a big bird native to North America that has been widely domesticated for food. It belongs to the genus Meleagris, the family of Phasianidae, with two species called Meleagris Gallopavo and Meleagris Ocellata. They usually live in mixed-conifer and hardwood forests, with an open field to find food. Despite their size, turkeys are quick fliers. They can fly and nest in tall trees, either while scavenging food or running from predators.
Both species have a “red thing” on their heads and throats formed from fleshy wattle, caruncles, snood, and beards. Both males and females have this “red thing” on their heads, but it is more prominent in males because of high testosterone levels.
Turkeys are known with the “red thing” on their heads. They usually have bright red and wrinkly flesh hanging from their neck, called the wattle. Wattle is more prominent in males than female turkeys because of the progesterone hormone of male turkeys, which is helpful during mating season. On regular days, it’s pale but turns into scarlet red during courtship or when they are excited.
The Structure of Wattle
A wattle is a flap of bumpy red flesh dangling off a turkey’s face. The anatomical position is in the neck of the turkey. It is more prominent in males than females. It is well vascularized, with a vast web of blood vessels that are sensitive to emotion, weather, and threats from predators. The color is light and subtle (dull reddish to grayish), which turns red if thrilled and bluish if frightened. It is also a good indicator of the general well-being of a turkey. Pale color could indicate that the turkey is weak, while vibrant red color if they are healthy.
Physiology of Wattles
Normally, the color of wattle is pale grayish red, but it changes its color depending on several environmental factors. When turkeys are thrilled or have sudden strong emotions like excitement or anger. The wattle becomes redder when they feel excited or mad. When this happens, a sudden gush of blood perfuses the wattle, thus making it redder.
Wattle is an organ of sex dimorphism. It also becomes redder during courtship and mating. They use their wattles to draw attention from female turkeys. And when they are in a breeding mood, not only that the wattle becomes redder, but the whole head also turns red, including the face, wattles, dewlaps, snoods, and earlobes. When this happens, this signifies that the male turkey is ready to do its breeding ritual.
On the other hand, wattle turns blue when they are frightened and in terror with their predators. Wattle also lightens when they feel tired, weak, and in pain.
The Function of Turkey’s Wattle
Wattles play a crucial role in the adaptive mechanism of turkeys in the ecosystem. In extreme weather conditions like in summer, the wattle helps release excess heat. And because generally, birds don’t sweat, wattles help the turkey stabilize their basal temperature and prevent them from overheating.
Male turkeys use their wattle to attract female turkeys, making it more prominent to males than females. Blood rushed through the blood vessels of the wattle, making it glow to bright red, thus catching the attention of a female turkey.
Turkey has many predators in the wild, including coyotes, foxes, bobcats, weasels, rascals, raccoons, snakes, hawks, and humans. When they feel they are in danger because of the presence of a predator, their wattle turns blue. The blood retracts from the wattle in response to the fear stimulus, turning it blue.
Significance of wattle on their reproduction
The breeding season usually begins in the first quarter to the second quarter of the year. During this period, courtship begins with the help of the turkey’s “red thing”. Female turkeys select male turkeys based on red wrinkly facial ornaments dangling on their necks.
Each morning during the mating season, male turkeys start loudly gobbling to attract the females. The red fleshy lumps hanging off their beaks called snoods engorges with blood, as well as the wattle on their necks. The “red thing” on their heads will draw attention to female turkeys. Male will fan out their tail’s feathers, then dance around to entice females to mate with them. Once the female crouches to select the gobbler, this signals the male to copulate. Turkeys are not monogamous. Thus, after mating, the male turkey will move on to find another female turkey to propagate.
The red thing in female turkey
Female turkeys have a “red thing” on their head as well, just like in males. You can determine the gender of a turkey by the characteristics of “the red thing” on their heads. Male turkeys have pink and red faces, and when aroused, it becomes brighter. Female turkeys have blue-gray heads, occasionally with some red splotches.