10 terrific turkey facts | Live Science

10 terrific turkey facts | Live Science

Gobble, gobble

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Turkey sandwiches are gobbled up year-round, but during Thanksgiving, the wattled bird is the star attraction on the dinner table. But there’s more to turkeys than meets the eye. Like all birds, the turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) is a living dinosaur, meaning its related to Tyrannosaurus rex. The official bird of Thanksgiving can sport multiple beards and it has an iridescent cousin known as the ocellated turkey (Meleagris ocellata) that lives in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, northern Belize and northern Guatemala.

Live Science takes a look at the rich biology, history and folklore behind the staple of the harvest celebration. We hope you’ll gobble up some turkey science with your holiday meal. 

1. They sport beards

(Image credit: Joseph M. Arseneau /

The centerpiece of many a Thanksgiving table once sported a beard? Well, sort of. The hairlike bristles that grow from the chests of male turkeys (or gobblers) and some hens are actually specialized feathers called meso filoplumes that grow from a single follicle. They can be lengthy, with some beards touching the ground, though feeding tends to wear down the ends, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission. 

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