In Summary
  • Scientists have proved that polydactylism can be suppressed or shifted to different phenotypes by exposing the developing embryos to low temperatures and injecting them with colchicine and insulin.   
  • Polydactyl trait doesn’t serve any useful purpose other than being a part of the breed’s standard definition criteria.  
  • The question that scientists are still grappling with is whether the five-toed chickens were brought from Asia to Europe or if they originated independently in these two parts of the world.  

As you are now aware, recently I added to my flock a couple of chickens with ‘weird’ features. One of them had five toes. 

Now, when I mention to people that a normal chicken has four toes, their first reaction is, ‘I never knew that.’ To be honest, I can’t blame them. 

Agricultural experts I’ve consulted on this matter noted that the development of extra toes (polydactylous chicken) is an unusual trait not just in chickens, but in the entire class of aves (a class of vertebrates which comprises birds).  

I’ll try to fit the jigsaw puzzle together. Generally, creatures with two legs and wings are called birds. Birds are the back- boned creatures with the ability to fly and to control body temperature. When birds are raised commercially for meat, egg or other features, they are referred to as poultry.  

Now, this is from the horse’s mouth: “Almost all birds have four digits (sometimes two or three) but rarely five or more”. Conversely, the bulk of the avian progenitors — reptiles — possess five and most mammals also have five toes. 

So, where did these polydactylous chickens come from? Your guess is as good as mine and the answer will depend on who you ask.  

I consulted the elders in Samia where I come from and this is what they told me, “We’ve reared these birds (namabasa in the local language) long before the coming of the white man.”  

Unfortunately, in most parts of Africa, information was passed on by the word of mouth and there’s little documentary evidence to confirm this.  

Elsewhere, the five-toed chickens first appeared in Latin literature in 37 BC.   

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