What’s That Thing That Hangs Off a Turkey’s Face?

iStock / NCHANT
iStock / NCHANT

That thing is called a snood. And it's there to let the other turkeys know that its owner is kind of a big deal.

When a male turkey—known as a tom—wants to mate, he faces two hurdles. One is his potential mates, the female turkeys (a.k.a. hens). In the realm of turkey mating, the hens wield the power of choice and the toms have to get their attention and win the opportunity to reproduce. Come mating season, a tom will strut around, gobble, puff out his chest, fan his tail, and drag his wings to attract the hens, who then pick which of the toms they’ll mate with.

The second problem for a tom looking for love is the other toms in the area. They’re all competing for the same limited number of hens. Sometimes a good mating display isn’t enough to win a mate, and toms will attack and fight each other to secure a hen. 

This is where the snood comes in. That goofy-looking piece of dangling flesh helps a tom both with choosy hens and with competition from rival males. Having a long snood almost always means that a hen will want to mate with him and that another tom will back down from a fight.

DUDES AND THEIR SNOODS

When two toms are trying to establish dominance, they’ll size each other up. Then they'll either fight, or one will flee.

In the late 1990s, Richard Buchholz, an animal behaviorist who focuses on turkeys, wanted to figure out which, if any, characteristics of a tom turkey could predict how they fare in dominance fights. That is, did bigger turkeys tend to win more scuffles? Did older ones? He also wanted to see if the turkeys used any of these predictive cues when sizing each other up. He looked at various characteristics of dominant toms that fight and win, and compared them to those of subordinate toms that lose fights or run from them. Of all the characteristics he looked at, only “relaxed snood length” seemed to be a reliable predictor of how a tom would do in bird-vs-bird combat. The dominant males, the ones who won fights and got a choice mate, had longer snoods.

With that in mind, Buchholz looked at how toms reacted to other toms with snoods of varying sizes. The birds tended to avoid confrontation with other males with longer snoods, and wouldn’t even feed near them. A big snood, this suggests, says to the other turkeys that this is a tom you don’t want to tangle with. Buchholz noted that snood length correlates with age, body mass, and testosterone, so, to competitors, the snood could be a good indicator of a tom’s aggressiveness, age/experience, size, and overall condition and fighting ability.

IN THE SNOOD FOR LOVE

Once the males have established who’s going to have a chance to mate, the final choice goes to the hen. While the mating display is the main draw for getting a hen to check him out, a tom’s snood helps him out again here.

Like it did for the other males, a tom’s snood signals a lot of information to a female assessing potential mates—it indicates how old and how big he is, and even says something about his health. In another study, Buchholz found that longer-snooded toms carried fewer parasites. If a hen wanted to choose a mate with good genes that might help her offspring grow large, live long, and avoid parasites, a tom’s snood is a good advertisement for his genes. In that study, hens showed a clear preference for toms with longer snoods. In another experiment years later, Buchholz found that healthy hens again showed a strong preference for long snoods and that hens with their own parasite problems were less picky about snood length and checked out more potential mates—perhaps, Buchholz thinks, because the hens recognized their own susceptibility to infection and were willing to invest more time searching for a tom with genes for parasite resistance that would complement their own—but still showed some preference for longer ones.

While a snood might look goofy to us, for a turkey, it’s integral to the mating game, signaling to other toms that they should get out of his way and letting hens know that he’s got what they’re looking for.

An earlier version of this article ran in 2013.

42 Amazing Facts About Dogs

fongleon356/iStock via Getty Images
fongleon356/iStock via Getty Images

Does this even need an introduction? It's cool facts about dogs, so you're already sold. Cuddle up with your best friend (or borrow a best friend's best friend) and detox from the world with interesting items about the animal that American humorist Josh Billings called "the only thing on Earth that loves you more than you love yourself."

1. DOGS LICK PEOPLE AND OTHER DOGS FOR A VARIETY OF REASONS.

A small dog licks the nose of a woman while lying in bed.
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Puppies will lick their mothers or owners as a sign of affection or to indicate that they're hungry. As adults, licking becomes a sign of submission to an authority figure. So if your dog licks you, they're probably trying to let you know that they want something—probably food and/or attention.

2. Licking ALSO MAKES dogs FEEL BETTER.

Licking your face releases endorphins that calm and relieve your dog's stress. But if a dog is constantly licking itself, they might be bored or have a skin problem you need to have checked out by a vet.

3. DOGS CIRCLE UP BEFORE LYING DOWN ON INSTINCT.

If we spun around three times before taking a nap it would seem like a waste of time or adherence to ancient superstition, but for dogs it's a matter of old habits dying hard. Dogs do it as a behavior evolved from their wild ancestors. Their nightly routine entailed (ahem) pushing down tall grass which scared off bugs or snakes while forming a small bed. Turns out spinning achieves a lot.

4. YOU SHOULd NEVER LEAVE YOUR DOG ALONE IN A CAR.

According to the American Kennel Club, a dog should never be left alone in a car—with no exceptions. Not only will your dog miss you but, according to Bright Side, the temperature inside cars increases rapidly regardless of whether or not the car is parked directly in sunlight, and dogs overheat extremely easily!

5. PUPPIES ARE FUNCTIONALLY BLIND AND DEAF AT BIRTH.

On day one, a puppy's eyes are firmly shut and their ear canals closed. Why? In brief, it’s part of an evolutionary trade-off. Since pregnancy can hurt a carnivore's ability to chase down food, dogs evolved to have short gestation periods. Brief pregnancies meant that canine mothers wouldn't need to take prolonged breaks from hunting. However, because dog embryos spend such a short time in the womb (only two months or so), puppies aren't born fully developed—and neither are their eyes or ears.

6. dogs understand the power of "puppy eyes."

A black and white dog's head resting on a dining table, its eyes looking up.
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According to a study from 2017, dogs raise their eyebrows (to make “puppy eyes”) and make other dramatic facial expressions when they know humans are watching. Shelter dogs have learned this trick, too; pups who employ the puppy eyes trick tend to get adopted more quickly than dogs that show other behaviors, like wagging their tails.

7. DOGS IMPROVE YOUR ATTITUDE.

That feeling of happiness you get while watching a bunch of puppies fall all over each other is genuine. Studies have found that spending time with dogs, especially in high-stress situations, can ease tension in humans. They can also lower your blood pressure (and they like going on walks, which helps you, too).

8. ONE OF THE MOST EXPENSIVE BREEDS HAS BEEN POPULAR SINCE THE RENAISSANCE.

Löwchens are a petite, long-haired dog that have been a popular breed since the Renaissance, and even showed up in some paintings from that period. As they're rare today, a Löwchen will cost you around $10,000 in some parts of the world.

9. DOGS CAN UNDERSTAND UP TO 250 WORDS AND GESTURES.

Young girl talking to her dog
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The average dog is estimated to be as intelligent as a 2-year-old child.

10. A WET NOSE being a sign of a dog's good health is a myth.

It's a common misconception that your dog’s wet nose is a sign of good health, but the real reason for the moisture on Fido’s nose is a little murkier. One explanation is that dogs repeatedly lick their nose throughout the day to keep it clean. Another is that the moisture helps them cool off. Dogs don’t sweat the way humans do, so they pant and let off extra heat through their noses. A special gland in the nose produces a clear fluid that helps them cool down faster.

11. dogs KNOW HOW YOU FEEL.

A red-haired woman holds a sleepy black Dachshund dog.
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Dogs can read your mood. A 2016 study from the universities of Lincoln and Sao Paolo found that dogs can read and respond to the emotions on human faces, even in photographs.

12. dogs have an amazing sense of smell.

A dog can smell anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 times better than the average human. Canines have 300 million olfactory receptors, compared to our measly 6 million. Moreover, the part of the brain dedicated to smell is 40 times larger in dogs than in humans.

13. dogs BREATHE DIFFERENTLY than humans.

While people breathe in and out the same way, canines breathe in through their nostrils and out through the slits found on the sides of the nose. This system circulates air so that the animal is always bringing in new smells. Breeds like the bloodhound also have the advantage of floppy ears that push up new smells.

14. DOGS GET JEALOUS.

Anyone with two dogs will probably tell you that dogs definitely feel jealousy—and it’s true! A 2014 study confirmed that your pet gets a little miffed when you start petting other dogs on the side.

15. THEIR FEET MIGHT SMELL LIKE POPCORN.

If you think your dog’s feet smell like popcorn or corn chips, you’re not alone! Dogs have a lot of bacteria and yeast that grow on their paws as a result of moisture that gets caught in the many folds and pockets between their toes. These microorganisms create a variety of smells. The bacteria Proteus or Pseudomonas are the likely parties guilty of giving your hound’s feet that distinct tortilla smell. There’s no need to go wash your pet’s paws just yet, though—a subtle smell is completely normal.

16. GUIDE DOGS DO THEIR BUSINESS ON COMMAND.

A black and red sign that says "Clean Up After Your Pets"
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Guide dogs are extremely well trained and only go to the bathroom on command. Usually the owner will have a specific spot for the hound and use a command word like, “go time” or, “do your business,” so they’ll know when and where to clean up.

17. DOG NAMES HAVE CHANGED A LOT THROUGHOUT THE YEARS.

In 2018, the most common dog names were Bella, Coco, Charlie, Lucy, Becks, and Max. If you’re curious about how much dog name trends change, here are some popular ones from Medieval times: Blawnche, Nosewise, Smylfeste, Bragge, Holdfast, Zaphyro, Zalbot, Mopsus, and Mopsulus.

18. DOGS DIG TO BEAT THE HEAT.

A Dalmation dog digs a hole in the san on a beach
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When stuck on an open lawn with little to no shade, unearthing a fresh layer of dirt untouched by the sun is a quick way to cool down.

19. DOGS ALSO DIG TO HIDE THEIR STUFF.

Imagine your dog gets bored with chewing his favorite bone but knows he wants to come back for it later. Instead of leaving it out in the open where anyone can snatch it up, he decides to bury it in a secret place where only he'll be able to find it. Whether or not he'll actually go back for it is a different story. Note: If your dog Smylfeste's motive for digging is more destructive than practical, he may have an energy problem.

20. DOGS BOW TO SIGNAL ATTACK PRACTICE.

Wondering why dogs bow? In many cases, it serves an important evolutionary function. A prime example is the play bow: If you've ever seen a dog crouch forward with its elbows on the ground and its rear end in the air, wagging tail and all, then you know what it is. The position is the ultimate sign of playfulness, which is important for a species that often uses playtime as practice for attacking prey.

21. SEVERAL dog BREEDS ARE CAT-FRIENDLY.

A grey kitten sleeps in the paws of a Golden Retriever dog.
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If you’re a cat owner looking for a dog that won’t fight with your feline, look for one of these breeds: Japanese Chins, Golden Retrievers, Papillons, Labrador Retrievers, and Beagles. Of course, every dog has its own personality—so just being one of the above breeds doesn't guarantee that Fido and Fluffy will become instant BFFs.

22. LABRADOR RETRIEVERS ARE THE MOST POPULAR PUREBRED DOGS IN AMERICA

According to the American Kennel Club’s official list, labrador retrievers, German shepherds, and golden retrievers have been the most popular purebred dogs, in that order, since at least 2014. Labs have taken the top spot in the organization's rankings of most popular breeds for 24 consecutive years—the longest reign of any breed in AKC history.

Coming in at spots 4 and 5 for 2018 were French bulldogs and bulldogs. Anecdotal evidence suggests that mutts are pretty popular, too.

23. THE NAME BEAGLE could HELP EXPLAIN THEIR LOUD BARK.

The word Beagle most likely comes from the French word begueule, which means “open throat.” The name is pretty accurate: Beagles have impressive vocal cords that are much fuller and louder than those of other dogs. Beagles are so talented at vocalizing, they do so in three different ways: There’s the standard bark for everyday things, like the doorbell or getting a new treat. Then there’s baying, which sounds a lot like doggy yodeling. This throaty yowl is used on the hunt to alert fellow dogs that they've picked up an interesting scent. Finally, there's the forlorn howl. Beagles will howl if they are sad, bored—or if others are howling first.

24. HUNTERS IN THE MIDDLE AGES HAD TINY BEAGLES.

A beagle puppy against a blue background
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Hunters in the 13th century employed pocket beagles, which are exactly as tiny and adorable as they sound. These miniature pups were only about 8 to 9 inches tall. Today, beagles are about 13 to 15 inches tall.

25. FRENCH BULLDOGS CAN'T DOGGY PADDLE.

French bulldogs’ origins are murky, but most sources trace their roots to English bulldogs. Lace makers in England were drawn to the toy version of the dog and would use the smaller pups as lap warmers while they worked. When the lace industry moved to France, they took their dogs with them. There, the English bulldogs probably bred with terriers to create bouledogues français, or French bulldogs.

As a result of their squat frame and bulbous head, French bulldogs can’t swim, so pool owners should keep a watchful eye on their pups.

26. HOT DOGS ARE NAMED AFTER WEINER DOGS, NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND.

A Dachshund in a hot dog costume.
LourdesPhotography/iStock via Getty Images

The deli product hawked by street vendors was originally known as a dachshund sausage because it resembled the short-legged hound. How the name switched is up for debate, but some believe the name was shortened to hot dog when a befuddled cartoonist could not spell the original name.

27. DOG TAILS HAVE THEIR OWN LANGUAGE.

A dog’s tail can tell you a lot about how they are feeling. A loose wag from side to side means the dog feels relaxed and content. More fervent wagging with hip movements means the dog is happy or saying hello to a loved one. If the tail is straight up, it is a sign of confidence or aggression; down and curled between the legs usually means fear or submission.

28. TESTING DOG INTELLIGENCE IS BASED ON LEARNING NEW COMMANDS QUICKLY.

Border collies, poodle, and German shepherds are considered to be among the smartest breeds of dog. To be placed in the top tier of intelligence, breeds must understand a new command after only five repetitions and follow the first command given to them 95 percent of the time.

29. SOME DOGS WILL LOOK LIKE PUPPIES THEIR WHOLE LIVES.

Although rare, some dogs can have pituitary dwarfism, just like humans. As a result, the dogs are puppy-like forever, keeping their puppy fur and staying small in stature. While this condition makes them look like adorable teddy bears, it comes with a whole slew of health problems.

30. SOME DOGS CAN HOLD EGGS IN THEIR MOUTHS WITHOUT BREAKING THEM.

A yellow Labrador Retriever lying in a field of wheat.
Chalabala iStock via Getty Images

Golden Retrievers have “soft mouths,” meaning they can carry things in their chops without damaging them—an important skill for canines tasked with retrieving their masters' hunting trophies. They’re so gentle, in fact, that some can be trained to hold a raw egg in their mouths without breaking it.

31. DOGS SMELL Each others' BUTTS TO LEARN ABOUT THEIR NEW ACQUAINTANCES.

Dogs sniff rear ends as their way of asking, “Who are you and how have you been?” Canines can find out a whole slew of information from just a whiff. The secretions released by glands in the rump tell other animals things like the dog’s gender, diet, and mood. It’s sort of like talking with chemicals.

32. LABRADOR RETRIEVERS AREN'T FROM LABRADOR.

They actually come from Newfoundland. In the 18th century, Greater Newfoundland dogs bred with smaller water dogs to produce St. John’s water dogs. These smaller canines looked a lot like modern day Labs, but with white muzzles and paws. The St. John’s water dog eventually went extinct, but it served as the ancestor for the Labrador retriever.

33. YOU CAN GET ALL FLAVORS OF LAB FROM ANY FLAVOR OF LAB PARENTS.

Regardless of the parents’ color, a single litter of Labs can include black, yellow, and chocolate puppies. There are two genes that cause the pigmentation of the coat, so the variation can be just as common as different hair colors in a human family.

34. CORGIS ARE GREAT FOR HERDING CATTLE.

A Corgi runs toward the camera.
Lisa_Nagorskaya iStock via Getty Images

The Welsh used the short dogs as herders as early as the 10th century. In those days, pastures were considered common land, so there were no fences. In order to keep a farmer’s cattle together and separated from other herds, corgis would nip at their legs to herd them. Because of their closeness to the ground, corgis had easy access to the cows’ ankles and were difficult targets of the retaliatory kicks of cattle.

35. DOGS HAVE LEFT- OR RIGHT-DOMINANT PAWS—JUST LIKE HUMANS.

They also have different blood types, and they can get laryngitis from barking continuously.

36. DOG'S MOUTHS AREN'T "CLEAN."

A common myth is that a dog’s mouth is a magically clean place. This is not the case: A canine mouth is brimming with bacteria. Fortunately, a lot of those germs are specific to the species so you don’t have to worry when your pup goes in for a wet kiss. That said, there are some similar bacteria, so make sure your pet has up-to-date shots.

37. DOGS HAVE DREAMS.

Smaller dogs also tend to dream more than larger dogs, and older dogs more than midlife dogs.

38. WE'RE LEAVING A LOT TO OUR DOGS.

An estimated 1 million dogs in the U.S. have been named primary beneficiary in their owner's wills. (Humans are still in charge of the money, though.)

39. THERE IS A DOG WITH SIX TOES.

A Lundehund standing on green grass.
CaptureLight iStock via Getty Images

Meet the Lundehund—which translates literally to puffin dog—has six toes on each foot. They're helpful for climbing the jagged, slippery rocks were puffins like to make their homes.

40. BLOODHOUNDS ARE THE MOST SKILLED SMELLERS.

A bloodhound’s sense of smell is the strongest among any dog breed. In fact, a bloodhound’s sense of smell is so strong and impressive that it's admissible as evidence in a court of law.

41. THE LABRADOODLE'S BREEDER THINKS IT WAS A MISTAKE TO CREATE THEM.

Sad Labradoodle dog.
dmbaker/iStock via Getty Images

In 2019, Wally Conron —the 90-year-old dog breeder who developed the Labradoodle— said that creating the designer dog breed was his "life's regret." "I opened a Pandora's box and released a Frankenstein['s] monster," he added. We'll add: An adorable, playful Frankenstein's monster.

42. RATES OF EUTHANASIA ARE DOWN.

In 2019, The New York Times examined data from shelters in 20 major American cities and discovered that rates of euthanasia—the practice of terminating the life of animals, often by lethal injection—has dropped by an average of 75 percent in recent years. In Houston, for example, 57 percent of animals brought into shelters in 2012 were put down. In 2018, that number dropped to just 15 percent. In Philadelphia, the rate decreased from 36 percent to 13 percent in the same timeframe. Phoenix went from 46 percent to just 4 percent. Other cities, including Los Angeles and New York, demonstrated similar declines.

Invasive Snakehead Fish That Can Breathe on Land Is Roaming Georgia

Mohd Fazlin Mohd Effendy Ooi, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Mohd Fazlin Mohd Effendy Ooi, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

A fish recently found in Georgia has wildlife officials stirred up. In fact, they’re advising anyone who sees a northern snakehead to kill it on sight.

That death sentence might sound extreme, but there’s good reason for it. The northern snakehead, which can survive for brief periods on land and breathe air, is an invasive species in North America. With one specimen found in a privately owned pond in Gwinnett County, the state wants to take swift action to make certain the fish, which is native to East Asia, doesn’t continue to spread. Non-native species can upset local ecosystems by competing with native species for food and habitat.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division is advising people who encounter the snakehead—a long, splotchy-brown fish that can reach 3 feet in length—to kill it and freeze it, then report the catch to the agency's fisheries office.

Wildlife authorities believe snakeheads wind up in non-native areas as a result of the aquarium trade or food industry. A snakehead was recently caught in southwestern Pennsylvania. The species has been spotted in 14 states.

[h/t CNN]

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