Imagine living with stones and sand in your stomach, giving birth every day and not being able to move when you’re afraid. That would be pretty scary, right? Well, there is one animal who lives with all three. While chickens are usually considered stupid and uninteresting, quite the opposite is true. Domesticated by humans for hundreds of years, they have developed into some of a fascinating farmyard creatures. Read on to discover six crazy facts about the most common type of bird (Chicken) in the world.
1) They have Stones in their Stomach
As you may know, like other birds, chickens don’t have teeth. For that reason, they must swallow their food whole. From the mouth, it travels down the food pipe to the crop. This organ helps them to store food – it is like an internal doggy bag.
If you touch a chicken which has just eaten, you can feel the food inside the crop, which is located just above the breast. Once the chicken is ready to digest more nutrients, the food travels further to the stomach, part of which is the gizzard. In chickens, this organ is full of grit and small stones, which act as teeth and grind up the food.
The gizzard has very strong, muscular walls and is rubbery to the touch, which isn’t surprising since it can crush all types of hard foods, including raw grains of rice. Interestingly and despite its tough musculature, the gizzard is edible, and there are many dishes where it is used as an ingredient. In fact, it is considered an inexpensive, but nutrient-rich and low-fat source of protein and iron.
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2) Easter Egg Chickens lay Colorful Eggs
A chicken breed called Araucana, which has its origins in Chile, is best known for the color of their eggs, ranging from light blue to light green. While pure-bred specimens’ eggs must be blue, there are reports of turquoise, green and even pink shells from less perfect specimens.
The rather small birds, who are sometimes called Easter Egg Chickens, have tufts on their ears and are rumpless, which means that they do not have a tail like other fowl. They were named after a native South American tribe and have been around for almost 500 years.
Perhaps it seems surprising that such an interesting breed is not very well known. Unfortunately, the same gene that causes the cute tufts behind their ears also causes a high mortality rate in chicks. That is why pure-bred Araucanas are exceptionally rare, and you won’t find them in your average backyard chicken coop.
3) They can Live Without a Head
It is common knowledge and often a source of amusement that chickens occasionally live for short amounts of time without a head. But why? The reason is quite simple and related to the bird’s anatomy. Because its brain lies in the skull at a 45-degree angle, the cerebellum and brain stem, which are vital for survival, sometimes remain intact even if the head is cut off.
As long as the lower beak is still attached to its body, the chicken may survive. The most famous example of this is Mike the Headless Chicken, who lived without a head for 18 months. However, this is a very rare case. Usually, the movement of the limbs after a chicken’s head has been cut off is due to nerves firing rapidly after death. So, it is in fact already dead and is most likely not in pain, but its limbs are still moving. Incidentally, this also happens when humans are decapitated.
4) You can Paralyze Them
Children growing up around chickens can often spend countless amusing hours paralyzing their birds. They will lay the chicken on its back or belly and draw lines away from both eyes with a rock, chalk, or even just a finger. The animal will remain paralyzed in this position for up to thirty minutes. This phenomenon, also called chicken hypnosis, actually puts chickens and certain other birds into a state of shock, called tonic immobility.
They believe that they are going to die, so they are petrified and unable to move. Nevertheless, this procedure does not hurt the chicken or rooster and is easily ended by clapping or touching it. Tonic immobility also exists in other animals, such as rabbits or sharks and may even apply to humans, according to a 2011 study with PTSD victims.
5) Hens can Ovulate Every Day
While human females only ovulate every 28 days on average, many breeds of domesticated hens can do so almost every day. The average amount of eggs laid by domestic chickens per year is 300, with caged hens laying 15 more than free-range animals in a commercial setting. While many regular backyard chickens lay significantly less, some owners report collecting more eggs per day than they have chickens.
The large variations in egg laying capacity stem from many different factors, such as an amount of stress, breed, age and time of year. For example, the Araucana chickens mentioned above do not lay more than three eggs per year, while hybrids are significantly more fertile. It should be noted that this incredible fertility is by no means natural.
Chickens’ ancestors, the South Asian red jungle fowl, only laid up to 20 eggs a year over a period of a few weeks. They did not ovulate year-round, and as a result lived longer than their domestic descendants.
6) Chickens are More Intelligent than Toddlers
In most contexts, when we call someone a chicken, it is not meant as a compliment. However, this might be a mistake. As researchers from Bristol University state, the birds are often underestimated, especially when it comes to their intelligence. In fact, they exhibit many skills, such as recognizing size, keeping track of up to five objects and knowing that an object still exists even if it is out of sight.
Even more amazing, the birds exhibit these traits only a few hours after birth, while it takes humans four years to develop the same abilities. They also seem to have a measure of emotional intelligence which young human toddlers lack, and can navigate using the position of the sun and stars.