Last month I left you with the intriguing thought – are chickens the closest living relative to the Tyrannosaurus rex?
In 2007, a palaeontologist from North Carolina extracted and sequenced seven different proteins from the leg bone of a 68 million-year-old Tyrannosaurus. She found that the collagen protein from the dinosaur was virtually identical to that found in modern day chickens. The theory that modern birds are descended from dinosaurs is a well-established one, but the North Carolina study provided the first molecular evidence.
As a chicken keeper, you are probably not surprised to hear that chickens are so closely related to dinosaurs. You’ve seen the way your chickens move. I’m sure I wasn’t the only chicken-keeper to watch Jurassic Park and think ‘Hang on a minute, those velociraptors remind me of someone, who is it now…why, it’s Dorothy the Light Sussex!’
We can’t tell much from the fossil record about the behaviour of dinosaurs, but if chickens are anything to go by, I’m guessing dinosaurs must have been pretty bad tempered. Last month, my hen Barefoot went broody in a bag of woodshavings in an open barn. This was a wildly unsuitable place for her to go broody as she was completely vulnerable to predators. I prepared a beautiful safe berth for her in the chicken shed and then attempted to move her and her eggs. Well, she went completely psycho. As I gently opened the bag and moved my hands towards her she viciously pecked my hand. I was expecting some trouble from her and was wearing gloves, so continued to approach her. To my astonishment, her head shot out like a striking cobra and she clamped her beak shut on the tender skin on the inside of my bare forearm. I yelled and moved back, but she hung on, then when she eventually lost her grip she lunged again, and grabbed a chunk of my wrist. I shook her off with difficulty (and pain) and withdrew to consider my strategy. In the end we got her out using gauntlets and heavy duty clothes, and she still delivered a blow through a heavy canvas shirt that left a bruise the shape and size of a squashed strawberry.
Thinking of her family connections, I suppose I should think myself lucky that she only had a beak, not a mouthful of horribly pointy teeth.