Start of Winter: Pheasants enter the water turn into monster clams

May 20th, 2012
by Jo Law

From our Earth-bound view, the sun continues to move along to ecliptic passing the cross-quarter point that marks the start of winter. While the overnight minimums hover around 13ºC, the daily maximums still reach the high teens and low twenties. Shadows lengthen as the sun climbs a fraction lower in the sky each day at noon. Hollis and I shared our lunch on the front deck enjoying the brief warmth. We heard a nearby rooster crowed. The season deepens.

A cousin of the pheasant, the chicken (Gallus gallus domesticus, both belonging to Phasianidae family), undergoes an annual transformation during the coldest months. Our white chicken moulted in late autumn and now has a complete body of new plumage. It has started laying eggs again. The black chicken on the other resummed laying after a short break only  to loose her feathers now.

The domestic chicken is a subspecies of Gallus gallus or the Red Junglefowl, endemic to south-east Asian tropics. Current theory suggests that the bird’s domestication by humans occurred in China and India. Although this practice can be dated as far back as 5400 BC, not all early domesticated birds contribute genetically to the present breeds. Genes of the Grey Junglefowl (Gallus sonneratii) have also been identified in the modern bird. It is believed that the domestication of chickens had multiple sources that were spread through Asia minor to Europe and Africa. Today Gallus gallus domesticus has the highest poplution amongst all bird species in the world.

The chicken genome was  sequenced by National Human Genome Research Institute in March 2003. It showed that chickens share 60% of their genes with humans and placed the mammalian and avian common vertebrate ancestor to around 310 million years ago. In 2008, genetic analyses of collagen protein preserved in a Tyrannosaurus rex fossils confirmed that chickens are a close living relative of the dinosaur. Imagine that.

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