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Wattles are some of the most distinctive and memorable physical traits in turkeys. If you look at a turkey's neck for even half a second, you'll probably notice a long, meaty lump taking up precious real estate right below his chin. Wattles are particularly noticeable in male turkeys.
Typical Wattle Coloration
These flabby and elongated bits of skin that dangle off turkeys' necks typically are a rather muted and subtle color -- specifically dull and reddish or grayish. When their mood changes, however, that often changes the color of the wattle too, to a much more conspicuous intense red.
Rush of Emotion
Turkeys' wattles often take a turn for the redder when they feel enlivened, overwhelmed, fearful, angry or alarmed. Whether something good or bad gets their attention, that rush of feeling often makes their wattles temporarily switch color. Apprehension also sometimes makes their wattles bluish.
The redness of a turkey's wattle doesn't come out of nowhere. The coloring is literally blood red. When turkeys are suddenly consumed by emotion, increased amounts of blood take up residence inside of their wattles, thus resulting in the reddening. Male turkeys frequently employ their wattles for courtship purposes. If they want to draw in female turkeys, their wattles frequently go red as a wooing signal.
Vivid red often signifies a thrill, blue often signifies terror and general wattle lightening often signifies a poor turkey feeling a little under the weather. If a turkey is uncomfortable and experiencing a bout of malaise, the wattle might just take on an overall markedly lighter color.
Other Color Changes
When male turkeys are in breeding mode, their wattles aren't the only things that turn red. Their whole heads seem to do so, from their snoods to their necks in general. If you notice this occurring, it usually denotes a male that's about to partake in a breeding ritual.
Females and Classic Turkey Characteristics
Although female turkeys do indeed possess wattles, they're easy to miss. This also is the case with several other turkey physical features, namely both snoods and caruncles. Snoods are extremely easy to see right above male turkeys' beaks. Caruncles are noticeable on the males' lower necks, as sizable mounds. These things are simply a lot less apparent in female specimens. The wattles specifically are much lighter and less striking in females.
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- CBC News: The Skinny on Snoods, Wattles and Wishbones
- University of Illinois Extension: Turkey for the Holidays - History & Lore
- University of Michigan BioKIDS: Wild Turkey
- PBS Nature: Wild Turkey Fact Sheet
- Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine: Know Your Turkey Parts
- Hollywild Animal Park: Animal Facts
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