How The Turkey Got Its Wattle

Ok, there aren’t any fun fables about how the turkey got its wattle. One of our readers took us up on our request for questions from the audience, and asked about that funny-looking wattle turkeys have!

A wattle is a brightly colored flap of skin that hangs down from the neck and throat. Wattles are found on males of many different animals – turkeys, chickens, goats, and some pig breeds. Females may have wattles, too, but they are much smaller.

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A good close-up of a turkey’s snood, wattle and caruncles. Photo source. 

A tom (male) turkey’s wattle is a bit different from those of other animals. They have a large wattle, but they also have large mounds at the bottom that are called caruncles. Smaller caruncles cover the turkey’s head.

The purpose of a turkey’s wattle is to show it off to the ladies. During turkey courtship, the wattle fills up with blood and becomes bright red. The tom splays out his tail feathers, tucks in his head to show off his impressive red wattle, and struts around in front of his potential love interest.

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All poofed up, turkeys are quite impressive! There’s his wattle and snood in action.Photo source

To go along with a wattle, a male turkey also has a snood, which is a long, fleshy area that grows down from the turkey’s forehead and hangs over his beak. Like the wattle, it fills up with blood during courtship to make the tom look irresistible when showing off.

The snood and wattle can also change other colors, depending on the turkey’s environment. Normally the snood and wattle are a dull reddish color. When a turkey is scared, the wattle and snood will be blue. If a turkey is not feeling well, they will be pale. And, of course, during courtship or when dueling with another male, the snood and wattle turn bright, blood red.

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This turkey might not be feeling well – his color doesn’t look too good! Photo source.

So there you have the answer to the question “Why do turkeys have wattles?” Answer in a nutshell: it’s all for show!

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A Royal Palm tom turkey. Isn’t he beautiful?! Photo source. 

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