Can Chickens Change Sex?

Not the most pervasive of suburban legends, granted, but it seems to keep popping up. It goes something like this…

Confused Farmer finds Hen is now Cock
The mature hen, Gertie, who had laid eggs the previous year, suddenly stopped, grew chin wattles and started to crow.

So, can chickens really change sex? – Short answer: NO

The Long Answer

There are a few different explanations for stories such as these, but the important point of all of them is that these apparent sex changes are merely superficial – the hen might be visually and behaviourally male, but she is still unable to fertilise another hen’s eggs. So why does the hen suddenly start crowing? Continue reading

Animal Personality Part II:
The Evolution of Personality

The field of research into personality and behavioural syndromes in animals has blossomed over the past few decades. With ample evidence for it’s existence, biologists have begun to consider its evolution; what is the adaptive benefit of personality? How are multiple personality types maintained in a population? Why do personalities exist when they sometimes result in maladaptive responses?

All these questions, and any evolutionary questions we might care to ask, make the assumption that personality is heritable. Without heritability, personality cannot be passed from generation to generation, and cannot be subject to natural selection. There is now plenty of evidence for high heritability of many personality traits in animals, although there is also an important influence of the environment too. Heritabilities estimates vary, from 0.22 – 0.61 in wild great tits, 0.32 in social spiders, 0.54 – 0.66 in humans and 0.2 – 0.8 in dumpling squid. These genetic influences may in part be reflected in brain morphology; one study in humans found differences in brain structure relating to neuroticism, conscientiousness, and extraversion. More neurotic people have a smaller total brain volume and a smaller frontotemporal surface area, whilst extraverts have a thinner inferior frontal gyrus.

Continue reading

Reasons Why Evolution is True Part IX:
DIY Evolution

Although some people may try to refute the theory of evolution, nobody can deny that natural selection occurs. We can demonstrate this quite easily within a single human lifetime, and humans have been inadvertently using natural selection to our own advantage for over 10,000 years. The processes I’m discussing, of course, are artificial selection and domestication.

When Darwin first began to think about evolution, one area of greatest interest to him was domesticated species, in particular the pigeon. The pigeon exists in around 300 of varieties, which have been selected for by pigeon fanciers for at least 5,000 years. The similarities between domestic pigeons and their wild counterparts are clear, however it seems that humans have, over many pigeon generations, been able to shape many aspects of their appearance including plumage colour and shape, body size, and beak shape. Other domesticated species such as dogs, cattle and even crop plants, have undergone significant changes in their appearance and internal anatomy since humans first began breeding them.

Continue reading