The Ayam cemani chicken is maybe the most colored species on the planet. The bird’s bones are a startling blue-ish black, just like its feathers, beak, comb, tongue, and toes.
Even the meat of the chicken appears to have been soaked in squid ink.
Surprisingly, the Ayam cemani chicken, which is native to Indonesia, is just the most extreme form of cutaneous hyperpigmentation, as defined by scientists. Another variety, called the silkie because of its smooth, hair-like feathers. And also the black H’Mong chickens of Vietnam and the svarthöna of Sweden, have hyperpigmented skin and tissues.
Fibromelanosis is the name given to the disorder by scientists.
“We have proofs that it is a sophisticated genomic rearrangement”, says Leif Andersson, a biologist who researches domestic animal genetics at Uppsala University in Sweden.
Furthermore, Andersson claims that most of these chickens are descended from one bird that existed hundreds or perhaps thousands of years ago.
“The mutation that causes fibromelanosis is highly unusual, so we know it happened once,” explains Andersson.
Who’s in the mood for some black meat?
While melanism has been observed in a variety of species on the internet, from black panthers as well as servals to a melanistic flamingo, black-scaled geckos, and snakes, Andersson’s chickens take this coloring to a whole new level.
This is how it works.
Endothelin 3, or EDN3, is a gene found in most vertebrates that govern skin tone, among other things. When a normal chicken is growing, some cells, such as those in the skin and feather follicles, express EDN3, which causes melanoblasts, or color-producing cells, to migrate.
In hyperpigmented chickens, however, nearly all the body’s cells express EDN3, resulting in up to ten times as many melanoblasts and tar-like bones and innards.
Andersson describes the situation as a “mis-migration.” “The pigment cells move to the incorrect area if you express excessive endothelin 3 in the incorrect spots.”
Luckily, the mutation appears to have no negative health consequences for the birds.
In addition, the dark color of these varieties has increased their value in the eyes of breeders and gourmets, who claim that the off-color meat and bones have a distinct and delicious taste.
From oddity to number one.
Despite the fact that scientists now know what makes these hens unique, the past of these breeds remains unknown.
Many regard Marco Polo’s short words to be the earliest mention of black-boned hens. While journeying across Asia in 1298, the researcher described a chicken breed that “has hair like cats, is black, and lays the best of eggs.” No one knows for certain, but the definition matches a Silkie well.
Andersson believes the mutation was transmitted throughout the world by cattle owners who liked the unusual color of the birds. There’s also a story of a sailor returning from an East Asian trading route with a black chicken. That may explain how the Svarthöna ended up in Europe.
Andersson, who has previously looked into the genetic origins of the silkie’s feathers and is presently investigating how hens get their crests, adds, “I believe it’s quite apparent that people prefer variation among domestic animals.”
Despite the fact that the breeds have existed for ages, the animals are still uncommon.
The American Poultry Association, for example, has granted just the silkie its own standard of excellence, allowing it can compete in exhibitions.
The procedure of getting a standard might take years, says John Monaco, the APA’s president.
“The Cemanis have only been around for a short time, and people are only now beginning to work with them,” Monaco explains. “However, Silkies abound. There are a number of different kinds, and some of them have even won competitions.”
Of fact, Andersson considers all-black chicken breeds champions merely because their coloring is so unusual genetically.
“Defective pigmentation white patches or a lack of pigmentation is more prevalent because disrupting genes is simpler than activating genes in the way that happened here,” he adds.
The black chickens were only conceivable due to luck. Humans, on the other hand, chose to breed them and spread them over the globe.
Andersson adds, “That’s what’s truly intriguing.”
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