Red Jungle Fowl
Comment: Not to be confused with other species of Jungle Fowl. The Red Jungle Fowl is considered rare or extinct due to hybridisation with its domesticated counterparts. As a group with 'mixed genetics', they are still common in many parts of Asia.
The Red Jungle fowl (Gallus gallus) is not a breed of chicken, but one of two ancestors of the domestic chicken. Whilst the genetics of the Red Junglefowl has contributed largely to domesticated fowl, research by Eriksson et al (2008) suggests genetic contribution from the Grey Jungle fowl as well. The exact time and place of domestication are unclear, and this may have occurred more than once during human history. It's believed that the modern chicken derives from birds kept by the people of the Harappan culture (2500-2100 B.C.), primarily for fighting purposes.
The Red Jungle fowl has a natural range that stretches from northeast India, east toward southern China and south into Malaysia and Indonesia. The separation through geographical distance resulted in each of these regions having its own subspecies. In addition to the subspecies of the Red Jungle fowl, there are three other Gallus species: the Green Jungle fowl (Gallus varius), the Grey Jungle fowl (Gallus sonneratii) and the Ceylon or Lafayette's Jungle fowl (Gallus lafayettei). As with their domestic counterparts, male and female bird show strong sexual dimorphism with the males much larger and having large red fleshy wattles (comb, ear lobes and wattle) on the head and long bright gold and bronze feathers (heckles) over the back of the nape to the lower back. The tail is of long arching feathers, with the longest in the centre forming the characteristic sickle shape. The physical properties of the tail feathers reflect light to give it a shimmering greenish, purple hue on a black background. A large spur located behind and above the foot is used in fighting. The female feathering is typical of the pheasant family of birds, being a dusty brown ticked with black and designed for camouflage. The Red Jungle fowl can measure up to 70 centimeters in length (measured from the tip of the beak to the tip of the tail when stretched out on its back). They live in thick secondary forest, but can be observed foraging in open areas or clearings in the morning or evening. They are capable of flight, although this is restricted to reaching roosting areas and for escape.
Recent research shows the genes that characterise the yellow leg colour of some domestic fowl were not derived from the Red Jungle fowl, but instead, from the Grey Jungle fowl. A gene coding for an enzyme that breaks down carotenoids (a yellow pigment) is abundant in domestic and Red Jungle fowl resulting in a white skin. Areas lacking the enzyme retain their carotenoids, imbuing the skin with a golden glow. The enzyme's gene is inactive in the legs of Grey Jungle fowl and most of their chicken descendants, giving them rosy red and bright yellow legs, respectively.
The Red Jungle fowl is unfortunately loosing its genetic integrity and is either quite rare or extinct. This is because genes from domesticated fowl have entered the gene pool through back crossing.
- J. Eriksson, G. Larson, U. Gunnarsson, B. Bed'hom, M. Tixier-Boichard, et al. (2008). Identification of the Yellow Skin Gene Reveals a Hybrid Origin of the Domestic Chicken. PLoS Genetics 4(2): e1000010.
- Red Jungle Fowl - Ideal Specimens
- Grey Jungle fowl Image - Credit: John Corder, World Pheasant Association