The appeal of Judge Whipper

If you paid me, I couldn’t tell you why I was wondering today, What is that red thing hanging down from the rooster’s chin?

If you’ve ever watched Ally McBeal, you’ll know the answer to this one. The flap of loose skin, found on roosters, turkeys, rabbits, some dog and goat varieties and even some humans, is called a wattle. Some bird species have wattles hanging from their eyes as well.

Just FYI, the rooster’s red hat is called a comb. And turkeys have a special blob of skin covering their beaks, called a snood. The bumpy stuff on their necks is a caruncle (vocab quiz next Thursday, kids).

Still, as I scavenged the web for information about this fleshy appendage, I was left hungry for more. Why do some animals have wattles? What are they for? Are they just fatty extras, or did they have an ancient evolutionary purpose?

Luckily, I was able to turn to Nirel, one of my coworkers, who has zoo-keeping experience and a ready answer for everything. According to Nirel,

I think this is the equivalent to the tail of a peacock – a measure of the health of the turkey, and therefore a bigger redder brighter wattle is a chick magnet, which will increase the fitness (number of offspring) of an individual.

Thanks, Nirel, for your wisdom. That explains the appeal of Judge Whipper.

Next week: Why do pigeons bob their heads?

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