I had no intention of doing another “holiday post” so soon after our Halloween post, but there’s been surprising interest in one of our YouTube videos. Last year we came up with a CT-scan-based animation of a turkey head which showed the blood vessels; we then tagged the end with “Happy Thanksgiving from the Witmer Lab,” and put it up on our YouTube channel. It got a polite response from friends, racking up, ahem, just 266 views. Without giving it much thought, this year on the day before Thanksgiving I posted the YouTube vid to my Facebook wall and to the WitmerLab Facebook page. What a difference a year makes. In the succeeding four days, the video got over 6300 views, a 23-fold increase over the previous 365 days!
In a world where Sittin’ on tha Toilet gets over 12 million views, getting 6000 views on a video doesn’t sound like much. Actually, it’s not too bad. Only about 10-12% of all YouTube videos get more than 5000 views (ref.), so our Thanksgiving turkey has fared better than about 90% of all YouTube videos. Of course, what made this video so interesting was the vascular injection of the snood, the fleshy appendage that hangs down across the bill. This injection is the work of WitmerLab doctoral student William Porter, who is studying the vascular supply of regions of the heads of archosaurs that may play a role in thermal physiology and/or behavioral display…and the turkey’s snood appears to fit the bill (as it were) on both counts. We have a manuscript on head vasculature in turkeys and pheasants that is almost ready to be submitted, so stay tuned for more details. The goal is to discover bony signatures for these vascular devices that will allow us to discover their presence in extinct species like dinosaurs. You gotta believe that at least some dinosaurs had things like wattles, combs, and snoods.
Of course our Thanksgiving turkey got some help from the blogosphere. For example, check out Improbable Research’s piece on “snood erections in wild turkey” which embedded our video as a “bonus.” But the main boost came from Maggie Koerth-Baker over at Boing Boing who embedded our video in her piece on “Thanksgiving science”:
“You know that weird, floppy bit of skin that hangs off the face of a male turkey? That’s called a snood, and it’s used to impress lady turkeys. In a process that should sound at least somewhat familiar, the snood fills with blood, growing in size, and turning rather red. This animation, based on CT scans, shows how the snood is connected to the blood vessels that allow it to engorge. (Even though using the word “engorge” that makes the turkey sound like a character in a really bad romance novel.) Thanks to Ohio University’s Witmer Lab for the animation!”
Before signing off, we’ll leave you with another festive animation (above), this time a WitmerLab version of a turducken, that is, a chicken stuffed in a duck stuffed in a turkey. We cooked up the animation in honor of last year’s Origin Day, the 150th Anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species. We decided that a turducken was an appropriate metaphor for Darwin’s theory which explains the history of life as a hierarchical nesting of groups within groups. In fact, we served an actual physical turducken (which was delicious!) at the Origin Day party we hosted at my home. We make these videos sometimes for our own fun and entertainment, but if they help attract people to the science behind the videos, then we’re also carrying out our outreach mission.