Welcome to Superoceras, a blog about science and natural history, slightly biased towards paleontology and zoology, but inclusive of all sciences. Started in October of 2009, my goal is to communicate scientific knowledge (and the occasional piece of nonsense) in an informative and entertaining manner. Feel free to contact me with questions, comments, concerns, or criticism at superoceras(at)gmail(dot)com, and follow me on Twitter @Superoceras for all that and more in 140 characters or less!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

"A Bird of Courage"

"For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America." Benjamin Franklin, 1784
An Eastern wild turkey hen, photographed at Stones River National Battlefield in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

What's for dinner tonight?  Well for many citizens of the United States, it will be dinosaur.  Turkey is the cornerstone of the Thanksgiving meal, and perhaps rightly so.  The turkeys, both fossil and modern forms, are only found in the Americas.  The most basal, Rhegminornis calobates, comes from the Early Miocene of Florida.  The type element (MCZ 2331) is the distal end of a right tarsometatarsus that belonged to a rather small bird (Olson & Farrand 1974). By comparison the modern wild turkey, Meleagris gallopavo, is much more imposing, with an average mass (of large males; they are a sexually dimorphic species) somewhere between that of a pelican and swan (Dunning 1992).

An Osceola wild turkey hen (much more iridescent and colorful than the Eastern subspecies), photographed along the St. Johns River,  near Blue Spring State Park, Florida.

I've been lucky enough to check two subspecies of wild turkey off my life list.  In Florida, a rafter of Osceola wild turkey (M. g. osceola) would frequent the palmetto scrub near my campsite at Blue Spring State Park, gobbling away the morning just out of sight.  I'd also catch glimpses of them in the swamp lands on the banks of the St. Johns River. They seem to be more reclusive than their cousins, the Eastern wild turkey (M. g. silvestris), who have no problem strolling right up to you and proceeding to chase you through fields, forests, and front lawns.  Later today, I'll encounter a slightly less lively variety, as I dine on domestic turkey with family, and give thanks for that "vain & silly" bird that sustains the spirit of the season and the winter months ahead. I'd also like to give thanks to all of you, the readers, commenters, and sharers, who despite my virtual absence for most of the year still pop by to check in on me when I do get to posting. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!


Dunning, John B., Jr. (ed.). 1992. CRC Handbook of Avian Body Masses. CRC Press, United States.

Olson, Stoors L. & Farrand, John, Jr. 1974. Rhegminornis restudies: A tiny Miocene turkey. The Wilson Bulletin 86(2), 114-120.