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News Link • Animals and Pets

Today's Turkeys Are Genetically Barren Compared To Their Wild Ancestors

• Rebecca Boyle via

We Americans raised about 254 million turkeys this year, and ran up a $9.1 million turkey trade deficit by importing even more birds from Canada, according to the Census Bureau. But the fowl we’ll eat this Thursday do not bear much resemblance to the birds enjoyed by European settlers in 1621. They’re genetically distinct from their wild ancestors--in fact, they have almost no genetic variation at all, geneticists say.

What's more, the turkeys on our dinner table this week have less genetic variation than both their wild counterparts and other domesticated animals, including pigs and chickens. The lack of variance can be explained by the way Americans like their turkeys--big and huge-breasted. Variation in genes that code for those traits can lead to more scraggly and therefore less appetizing turkeys.

Rob Fleischer, head of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute’s Center for Conservation and Evolutionary Genetics, said the team wanted to compare how domestic Thanksgiving turkeys compared with their ancestral wild brethren from southern Mexico.

“Ancient turkeys weren’t your Butterball,” he said in a statement.

2 Comments in Response to

Comment by Ed Price
Entered on:

Hey, we are not "artificially inseminated." We are artificially excited to natural insemination. There's a difference, you know. Or is it really just a distinction?

Comment by David McElroy
Entered on:

 Yes! And having some experience with turkeys, the common white commercially farmed "butterball" turkey has been domesticated to the point of brainlessness. The wild turkey, on the other hand, is not only colorful, but intelligent and highly evasive. The domesticated turkey has been so thoroughly inbred and hybridized that they have been known to drown looking up to see where rain drops come from, simply because they were too stupid to close their mouths. You can walk up to a huge white tom and he'll let you put your hands on his throat! These domesticated birds have to be artificially inseminated because they have lost even the instinct to breed! I lived in turkey farming country as a youth, even worked in a turkey processing plant. My point is, how domesticated to YOU want to be? Do you want to see your kids end up like domesticated butterballs, or living free like the wild turkey?

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