42 Amazing Facts About Dogs

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fongleon356/iStock via Getty Images

Does this even need an introduction? It's cool facts about dogs, so you're already sold. Cuddle up with your best friend (or borrow a best friend's best friend) and detox from the world with interesting items about the animal that American humorist Josh Billings called "the only thing on Earth that loves you more than you love yourself."

1. DOGS LICK PEOPLE AND OTHER DOGS FOR A VARIETY OF REASONS.

A small dog licks the nose of a woman while lying in bed.
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Puppies will lick their mothers or owners as a sign of affection or to indicate that they're hungry. As adults, licking becomes a sign of submission to an authority figure. So if your dog licks you, they're probably trying to let you know that they want something—probably food and/or attention.

2. Licking ALSO MAKES dogs FEEL BETTER.

Licking your face releases endorphins that calm and relieve your dog's stress. But if a dog is constantly licking itself, they might be bored or have a skin problem you need to have checked out by a vet.

3. DOGS CIRCLE UP BEFORE LYING DOWN ON INSTINCT.

If we spun around three times before taking a nap it would seem like a waste of time or adherence to ancient superstition, but for dogs it's a matter of old habits dying hard. Dogs do it as a behavior evolved from their wild ancestors. Their nightly routine entailed (ahem) pushing down tall grass which scared off bugs or snakes while forming a small bed. Turns out spinning achieves a lot.

4. YOU SHOULd NEVER LEAVE YOUR DOG ALONE IN A CAR.

According to the American Kennel Club, a dog should never be left alone in a car—with no exceptions. Not only will your dog miss you but, according to Bright Side, the temperature inside cars increases rapidly regardless of whether or not the car is parked directly in sunlight, and dogs overheat extremely easily!

5. PUPPIES ARE FUNCTIONALLY BLIND AND DEAF AT BIRTH.

On day one, a puppy's eyes are firmly shut and their ear canals closed. Why? In brief, it’s part of an evolutionary trade-off. Since pregnancy can hurt a carnivore's ability to chase down food, dogs evolved to have short gestation periods. Brief pregnancies meant that canine mothers wouldn't need to take prolonged breaks from hunting. However, because dog embryos spend such a short time in the womb (only two months or so), puppies aren't born fully developed—and neither are their eyes or ears.

6. dogs understand the power of "puppy eyes."

A black and white dog's head resting on a dining table, its eyes looking up.
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According to a study from 2017, dogs raise their eyebrows (to make “puppy eyes”) and make other dramatic facial expressions when they know humans are watching. Shelter dogs have learned this trick, too; pups who employ the puppy eyes trick tend to get adopted more quickly than dogs that show other behaviors, like wagging their tails.

7. DOGS IMPROVE YOUR ATTITUDE.

That feeling of happiness you get while watching a bunch of puppies fall all over each other is genuine. Studies have found that spending time with dogs, especially in high-stress situations, can ease tension in humans. They can also lower your blood pressure (and they like going on walks, which helps you, too).

8. ONE OF THE MOST EXPENSIVE BREEDS HAS BEEN POPULAR SINCE THE RENAISSANCE.

Löwchens are a petite, long-haired dog that have been a popular breed since the Renaissance, and even showed up in some paintings from that period. As they're rare today, a Löwchen will cost you around $10,000 in some parts of the world.

9. DOGS CAN UNDERSTAND UP TO 250 WORDS AND GESTURES.

Young girl talking to her dog
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The average dog is estimated to be as intelligent as a 2-year-old child.

10. A WET NOSE being a sign of a dog's good health is a myth.

It's a common misconception that your dog’s wet nose is a sign of good health, but the real reason for the moisture on Fido’s nose is a little murkier. One explanation is that dogs repeatedly lick their nose throughout the day to keep it clean. Another is that the moisture helps them cool off. Dogs don’t sweat the way humans do, so they pant and let off extra heat through their noses. A special gland in the nose produces a clear fluid that helps them cool down faster.

11. dogs KNOW HOW YOU FEEL.

A red-haired woman holds a sleepy black Dachshund dog.
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Dogs can read your mood. A 2016 study from the universities of Lincoln and Sao Paolo found that dogs can read and respond to the emotions on human faces, even in photographs.

12. dogs have an amazing sense of smell.

A dog can smell anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 times better than the average human. Canines have 300 million olfactory receptors, compared to our measly 6 million. Moreover, the part of the brain dedicated to smell is 40 times larger in dogs than in humans.

13. dogs BREATHE DIFFERENTLY than humans.

While people breathe in and out the same way, canines breathe in through their nostrils and out through the slits found on the sides of the nose. This system circulates air so that the animal is always bringing in new smells. Breeds like the bloodhound also have the advantage of floppy ears that push up new smells.

14. DOGS GET JEALOUS.

Anyone with two dogs will probably tell you that dogs definitely feel jealousy—and it’s true! A 2014 study confirmed that your pet gets a little miffed when you start petting other dogs on the side.

15. THEIR FEET MIGHT SMELL LIKE POPCORN.

If you think your dog’s feet smell like popcorn or corn chips, you’re not alone! Dogs have a lot of bacteria and yeast that grow on their paws as a result of moisture that gets caught in the many folds and pockets between their toes. These microorganisms create a variety of smells. The bacteria Proteus or Pseudomonas are the likely parties guilty of giving your hound’s feet that distinct tortilla smell. There’s no need to go wash your pet’s paws just yet, though—a subtle smell is completely normal.

16. GUIDE DOGS DO THEIR BUSINESS ON COMMAND.

A black and red sign that says "Clean Up After Your Pets"
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Guide dogs are extremely well trained and only go to the bathroom on command. Usually the owner will have a specific spot for the hound and use a command word like, “go time” or, “do your business,” so they’ll know when and where to clean up.

17. DOG NAMES HAVE CHANGED A LOT THROUGHOUT THE YEARS.

In 2018, the most common dog names were Bella, Coco, Charlie, Lucy, Becks, and Max. If you’re curious about how much dog name trends change, here are some popular ones from Medieval times: Blawnche, Nosewise, Smylfeste, Bragge, Holdfast, Zaphyro, Zalbot, Mopsus, and Mopsulus.

18. DOGS DIG TO BEAT THE HEAT.

A Dalmation dog digs a hole in the san on a beach
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When stuck on an open lawn with little to no shade, unearthing a fresh layer of dirt untouched by the sun is a quick way to cool down.

19. DOGS ALSO DIG TO HIDE THEIR STUFF.

Imagine your dog gets bored with chewing his favorite bone but knows he wants to come back for it later. Instead of leaving it out in the open where anyone can snatch it up, he decides to bury it in a secret place where only he'll be able to find it. Whether or not he'll actually go back for it is a different story. Note: If your dog Smylfeste's motive for digging is more destructive than practical, he may have an energy problem.

20. DOGS BOW TO SIGNAL ATTACK PRACTICE.

Wondering why dogs bow? In many cases, it serves an important evolutionary function. A prime example is the play bow: If you've ever seen a dog crouch forward with its elbows on the ground and its rear end in the air, wagging tail and all, then you know what it is. The position is the ultimate sign of playfulness, which is important for a species that often uses playtime as practice for attacking prey.

21. SEVERAL dog BREEDS ARE CAT-FRIENDLY.

A grey kitten sleeps in the paws of a Golden Retriever dog.
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If you’re a cat owner looking for a dog that won’t fight with your feline, look for one of these breeds: Japanese Chins, Golden Retrievers, Papillons, Labrador Retrievers, and Beagles. Of course, every dog has its own personality—so just being one of the above breeds doesn't guarantee that Fido and Fluffy will become instant BFFs.

22. LABRADOR RETRIEVERS ARE THE MOST POPULAR PUREBRED DOGS IN AMERICA

According to the American Kennel Club’s official list, labrador retrievers, German shepherds, and golden retrievers have been the most popular purebred dogs, in that order, since at least 2014. Labs have taken the top spot in the organization's rankings of most popular breeds for 24 consecutive years—the longest reign of any breed in AKC history.

Coming in at spots 4 and 5 for 2018 were French bulldogs and bulldogs. Anecdotal evidence suggests that mutts are pretty popular, too.

23. THE NAME BEAGLE could HELP EXPLAIN THEIR LOUD BARK.

The word Beagle most likely comes from the French word begueule, which means “open throat.” The name is pretty accurate: Beagles have impressive vocal cords that are much fuller and louder than those of other dogs. Beagles are so talented at vocalizing, they do so in three different ways: There’s the standard bark for everyday things, like the doorbell or getting a new treat. Then there’s baying, which sounds a lot like doggy yodeling. This throaty yowl is used on the hunt to alert fellow dogs that they've picked up an interesting scent. Finally, there's the forlorn howl. Beagles will howl if they are sad, bored—or if others are howling first.

24. HUNTERS IN THE MIDDLE AGES HAD TINY BEAGLES.

A beagle puppy against a blue background
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Hunters in the 13th century employed pocket beagles, which are exactly as tiny and adorable as they sound. These miniature pups were only about 8 to 9 inches tall. Today, beagles are about 13 to 15 inches tall.

25. FRENCH BULLDOGS CAN'T DOGGY PADDLE.

French bulldogs’ origins are murky, but most sources trace their roots to English bulldogs. Lace makers in England were drawn to the toy version of the dog and would use the smaller pups as lap warmers while they worked. When the lace industry moved to France, they took their dogs with them. There, the English bulldogs probably bred with terriers to create bouledogues français, or French bulldogs.

As a result of their squat frame and bulbous head, French bulldogs can’t swim, so pool owners should keep a watchful eye on their pups.

26. HOT DOGS ARE NAMED AFTER WEINER DOGS, NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND.

A Dachshund in a hot dog costume.
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The deli product hawked by street vendors was originally known as a dachshund sausage because it resembled the short-legged hound. How the name switched is up for debate, but some believe the name was shortened to hot dog when a befuddled cartoonist could not spell the original name.

27. DOG TAILS HAVE THEIR OWN LANGUAGE.

A dog’s tail can tell you a lot about how they are feeling. A loose wag from side to side means the dog feels relaxed and content. More fervent wagging with hip movements means the dog is happy or saying hello to a loved one. If the tail is straight up, it is a sign of confidence or aggression; down and curled between the legs usually means fear or submission.

28. TESTING DOG INTELLIGENCE IS BASED ON LEARNING NEW COMMANDS QUICKLY.

Border collies, poodle, and German shepherds are considered to be among the smartest breeds of dog. To be placed in the top tier of intelligence, breeds must understand a new command after only five repetitions and follow the first command given to them 95 percent of the time.

29. SOME DOGS WILL LOOK LIKE PUPPIES THEIR WHOLE LIVES.

Although rare, some dogs can have pituitary dwarfism, just like humans. As a result, the dogs are puppy-like forever, keeping their puppy fur and staying small in stature. While this condition makes them look like adorable teddy bears, it comes with a whole slew of health problems.

30. SOME DOGS CAN HOLD EGGS IN THEIR MOUTHS WITHOUT BREAKING THEM.

A yellow Labrador Retriever lying in a field of wheat.
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Golden Retrievers have “soft mouths,” meaning they can carry things in their chops without damaging them—an important skill for canines tasked with retrieving their masters' hunting trophies. They’re so gentle, in fact, that some can be trained to hold a raw egg in their mouths without breaking it.

31. DOGS SMELL Each others' BUTTS TO LEARN ABOUT THEIR NEW ACQUAINTANCES.

Dogs sniff rear ends as their way of asking, “Who are you and how have you been?” Canines can find out a whole slew of information from just a whiff. The secretions released by glands in the rump tell other animals things like the dog’s gender, diet, and mood. It’s sort of like talking with chemicals.

32. LABRADOR RETRIEVERS AREN'T FROM LABRADOR.

They actually come from Newfoundland. In the 18th century, Greater Newfoundland dogs bred with smaller water dogs to produce St. John’s water dogs. These smaller canines looked a lot like modern day Labs, but with white muzzles and paws. The St. John’s water dog eventually went extinct, but it served as the ancestor for the Labrador retriever.

33. YOU CAN GET ALL FLAVORS OF LAB FROM ANY FLAVOR OF LAB PARENTS.

Regardless of the parents’ color, a single litter of Labs can include black, yellow, and chocolate puppies. There are two genes that cause the pigmentation of the coat, so the variation can be just as common as different hair colors in a human family.

34. CORGIS ARE GREAT FOR HERDING CATTLE.

A Corgi runs toward the camera.
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The Welsh used the short dogs as herders as early as the 10th century. In those days, pastures were considered common land, so there were no fences. In order to keep a farmer’s cattle together and separated from other herds, corgis would nip at their legs to herd them. Because of their closeness to the ground, corgis had easy access to the cows’ ankles and were difficult targets of the retaliatory kicks of cattle.

35. DOGS HAVE LEFT- OR RIGHT-DOMINANT PAWS—JUST LIKE HUMANS.

They also have different blood types, and they can get laryngitis from barking continuously.

36. DOG'S MOUTHS AREN'T "CLEAN."

A common myth is that a dog’s mouth is a magically clean place. This is not the case: A canine mouth is brimming with bacteria. Fortunately, a lot of those germs are specific to the species so you don’t have to worry when your pup goes in for a wet kiss. That said, there are some similar bacteria, so make sure your pet has up-to-date shots.

37. DOGS HAVE DREAMS.

Smaller dogs also tend to dream more than larger dogs, and older dogs more than midlife dogs.

38. WE'RE LEAVING A LOT TO OUR DOGS.

An estimated 1 million dogs in the U.S. have been named primary beneficiary in their owner's wills. (Humans are still in charge of the money, though.)

39. THERE IS A DOG WITH SIX TOES.

A Lundehund standing on green grass.
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Meet the Lundehund—which translates literally to puffin dog—has six toes on each foot. They're helpful for climbing the jagged, slippery rocks were puffins like to make their homes.

40. BLOODHOUNDS ARE THE MOST SKILLED SMELLERS.

A bloodhound’s sense of smell is the strongest among any dog breed. In fact, a bloodhound’s sense of smell is so strong and impressive that it's admissible as evidence in a court of law.

41. THE LABRADOODLE'S BREEDER THINKS IT WAS A MISTAKE TO CREATE THEM.

Sad Labradoodle dog.
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In 2019, Wally Conron —the 90-year-old dog breeder who developed the Labradoodle— said that creating the designer dog breed was his "life's regret." "I opened a Pandora's box and released a Frankenstein['s] monster," he added. We'll add: An adorable, playful Frankenstein's monster.

42. RATES OF EUTHANASIA ARE DOWN.

In 2019, The New York Times examined data from shelters in 20 major American cities and discovered that rates of euthanasia—the practice of terminating the life of animals, often by lethal injection—has dropped by an average of 75 percent in recent years. In Houston, for example, 57 percent of animals brought into shelters in 2012 were put down. In 2018, that number dropped to just 15 percent. In Philadelphia, the rate decreased from 36 percent to 13 percent in the same timeframe. Phoenix went from 46 percent to just 4 percent. Other cities, including Los Angeles and New York, demonstrated similar declines.

Three Cows Carried Away by Hurricane Dorian Turn Up Five Miles From Their Home

Bob Douglas/iStock via Getty Images
Bob Douglas/iStock via Getty Images

A lot of unusual things turn up on beaches after major storms, from Civil War cannonballs to 19th-century shipwrecks. Hurricane Dorian made an especially surprising delivery to the Outer Banks in North Carolina earlier this year. As Smithsonian reports, three cows thought to be lost for good were found grazing on a shoreline miles away from their home.

The cattle are originally from Cedar Island, a fishing community on the North Carolina coast. Wild horses in this region have adapted to survive the hurricanes that regularly batter the state, but the rapid flooding was too strong for one group of animals when Hurricane Dorian landed in September. The storm surge swept away 17 cattle and 28 horses from the island.

All of the animals missing from Cedar Island were feared to be dead, and the bodies of a few horses were even discovered washed up on shore. But against abysmal odds, at least three of the cows survived. The first was found in Cape Lookout National Seashore in the barrier islands the day after the storm dissipated. Three weeks later, two more cows showed up on the same stretch of grass four to five miles from where they were last seen.

The cattle of Cedar Island can swim, but crossing several miles of stormy water would have been treacherous for any land animal. Despite the traumatic journey, the official Facebook page for Cedar Island's horses reports that the cows "look healthy and well." The next step will be to transport the cows back to their original home, possibly by ferry. If that plan falls through, the trio will become permanent residents of Cape Lookout.

[h/t Smithsonian]

32 Facts About Turkeys to Gobble Right Up

iStock
iStock

Most of us probably associate turkey with a sumptuous Thanksgiving spread, but there’s a lot more to the big bird than how delicious it is alongside your grandma’s famous cranberry sauce. Here are a few bits of knowledge you can drop over the dinner table—when you’re not fighting with your family, that is.

1. The North American wild turkey population was almost wiped out.

Wild turkey
iStock

Wild turkeys once roamed the continent en masse, but by the early 20th century, the entire U.S. population had been whittled down to a mere 30,000 due to hunting and the destruction of their woodland habitats. In the 1940s, many of the remaining birds were relocated to parts of the U.S. with recovering woodlands so the turkeys could repopulate. Despite these efforts, by 1973, there were still just 1.5 million wild turkeys in North America. Today, that number is up to about 6 million.

2. Turkey appendages are like mood rings.

Wild turkey
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The dangly appendage that hangs from the turkey’s forehead to the beak is called a snood. The piece that hangs from the chin is the wattle. These fleshy flaps can change color according to the turkey’s physical and mental health—when a male turkey (called a tom, of course) is trying to attract a mate, the snood and wattle turn bright red. If the turkey is scared, the appendages take on a blue tint. And if the turkey is ailing, they become very pale.

3. Turkeys can fly.

Close-up photo of a turkey
Jeffengeloutdoors.com/iStock via Getty Images

Well, domestic turkeys that are bred to be your Thanksgiving centerpiece can’t. They’re too heavy. But wild turkeys can, reportedly at speeds up to 55 miles per hour. Though they don’t go very far—usually less than 100 yards—wild turkeys are among the five largest flying birds in the world. They’re in good company: Others on the list include the swan and the albatross.

4. Turkeys can also swim.

Wild turkey drinking water
iStock

Turkeys don’t swim often, it seems, but they can, by tucking their wings in, spreading their tails, and kicking. In 1831, John James Audubon wrote, “I have been told by a friend that a person residing in Philadelphia had a hearty laugh on hearing that I had described the Wild Turkey as swimming for some distance, when it had accidentally fallen into the water. But be assured, kind reader, almost every species of land-bird is capable of swimming on such occasions, and you may easily satisfy yourself as to the accuracy of my statement by throwing a Turkey, a Common Fowl, or any other bird into the water.”

5. Turkey poop can tell you a lot.

A handler picking up turkey poop at the White House Turkey Pardon in 2013.
Getty / Chip Somodevilla / Staff

The next time you happen across turkey poop—which happens all the time, we know—take a closer look at it. If the droppings are shaped like a “J,” they were left there by a male turkey. Spiral-shaped poo? The culprit is female.

The citizens of Pilot Rock, Oregon, probably don’t much care about the shape of the stuff, but more about the quantity of it. Earlier this year, Pilot Rock turned to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) for help combating a flock of 50 to 70 wild turkeys that would periodically invade the town, destroy gardens, perch in trees, and poop on pickup trucks. The ODFW offered several solutions, but as far as we know the turkeys still rule the roost at Pilot Rock.

6. Turkey probably wasn't on the pilgrims' menu.

A recreation of the Pilgrims' first settlement
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Thanks to historical records, we know for sure that the Wampanoag brought deer, and the English brought fowl—likely ducks and geese.

7. No, Ben Franklin didn't really want the turkey to be our national bird.

A drawing of Ben Franklin.
Getty / Hulton Archive / Handout

You may have heard that at least one of our Founding Fathers lobbied hard to make the turkey our national symbol instead of the noble bald eagle. That’s not quite true, but in a letter to his daughter, he did expound on the character of each, which may be where the rumor got started:

“For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.

“With all this injustice, he is never in good case but like those among men who live by sharping & robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the district. He is therefore by no means a proper emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America who have driven all the King birds from our country…

“I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America… He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.”

8. Alexander Hamilton was another turkey fan.

Portrait of Alexander Hamilton
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Yep, A. Ham liked turkey. In fact, he thought eating turkey was practically a god-given right, and once remarked that "No citizen of the U.S. shall refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day."

9. Teddy Roosevelt believed the birds were cunning prey.

Teddy Roosevelt on a hunting trip in Africa.
Getty / Hulton Archive / Stringer

Ol’ TR may have been accustomed to hunting big game, but wild turkeys held a special place in his heart. He believed they were every bit as challenging to hunt as deer. In his 1893 book Hunting Trips of a Ranchman and the Wilderness Hunter, he wrote, “The wild turkey really deserves a place beside the deer; to kill a wary old gobbler with the small-bore rifle, by fair still-hunting, is a triumph for the best sportsman.”

10. Wild turkeys have better vision than you do.

Close up of wild turkey's head
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Their fantastic vision is probably one reason Teddy Roosevelt found turkeys such a challenge to hunt. They can detect motion from many yards away, have vision three times greater than 20/20, and have peripheral vision of about 270 degrees. Ours, comparatively, is only 180. And although turkeys can’t see in 3D, they can see UVA light, which helps them better identify predators, prey, mates, and food.

11. The top turkey-producing state may surprise you.

Domesticated turkeys on a farm
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You may know Minnesota for producing Prince, the Mall of America, and Target. But we also have the Land of 10,000 Lakes to thank for our Thanksgiving turkeys. According to the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association, approximately 46 to 48 million turkeys are produced in Minnesota every year. In fact, it’s where the turkey that receives a presidential pardon hails from every year. Speaking of which ...

12. The presidential turkey pardon might date back to Abe Lincoln.

President Barack Obama pardons a turkey in 2011.
Getty / Mark Wilson / Staff

Officially, the tradition of the sitting president of the United States pardoning his Thanksgiving turkey dates back to John F. Kennedy, who decided to let his gift from the National Turkey Federation off the hook. But he wasn't the first president to let a turkey go free: When Abraham Lincoln’s son Tad befriended one of the birds intended for Christmas dinner in 1863, kind-hearted Abe granted it a stay of execution.

13. The first TV dinner was made up of Thanksgiving leftovers.

Thanksgiving TV dinner
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In 1953, Swanson ended up with 10 train cars full of frozen turkeys—260 tons of them—when an overzealous buyer ordered too many turkeys for the holidays. Salesman Gerry Thomas solved the problem by ordering 5000 aluminum trays and setting up an assembly line of workers to scoop dressing, peas, and sweet potatoes into the compartments. Slices of turkey rounded out the meal, which Swanson sold for 98 cents. The idea was a hit: The following year, 10 million turkey TV dinners were sold.

14. National Turkey Lovers' Month isn't when you think it is.

Grilled meats on a silver tray
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Everyone eats turkey in November and December, so there’s not a lot of need for extra poultry promotion during those months. If you want to celebrate National Turkey Lovers’ Month, you’ll have to do it in June with some turkey brats and burgers on the grill.

15. The turkey you're eating is probably about 18 weeks old.

Roasted turkey on a platter
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That’s how long it typically takes the birds to grow to maturity, which is when they’re usually slaughtered.

16. There was almost a turkey sidekick in Pocahontas.

Loren Javier via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

At one point, Disney thought Pocahontas needed a little comic relief, so they hired John Candy to voice a wisecracking woodland fowl named Red Feather. Sadly, Candy passed away while the logistics were being worked out, so animators dropped the turkey entirely and opted for a clever raccoon named Meeko.

17. Not all turkeys gobble.

Close up shot of a wild turkey
iStock

If you hear a turkey making the distinctive noise we all associate with them, then you’re hearing a male communicating with his lady friends up to a mile away. Females make a clicking sound instead of a gobble.

18. If you don't eat turkey at Thanksgiving, you're in the minority.

A black and white photo of a family gathering around the table as the mother brings in a turkey.
Getty / Evans / Stringer

According to the National Turkey Federation, 88 percent of Americans eat turkey at Thanksgiving.

19. Turkey cravings caused a spike in KFC sales in Japan.

A large Kentucky Fried Chicken sign
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When KFC opened its first stores in Japan in the 1970s, the company was surprised to find that sales soared during the holidays. The phenomenon stymied executives since most of Japan celebrates neither Thanksgiving nor Christmas. It was later discovered that foreigners craving holiday turkey had decided that KFC’s chicken was the next best thing. After the company figured this out, they played up the association with their “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!” campaign—“Kentucky for Christmas.” It worked on tourists and locals alike, and today, Christmas Eve is still the highest-selling day for KFC Japan.

20. There is proper turkey terminology.

A flock of turkeys on a farm with one staring directly into the camera.
Getty / Cate Gillon / Staff

You probably know that a group of turkeys is a flock, but they can also properly be called a rafter. And should you want to call baby turkeys something a little more precise, you can call them poults.

21. The Maya used turkeys as sacrificial offerings.

A Maya tripod plate featuring a bird
Los Angeles County Museum of Art via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Archaeologists have found vases dating from 250-800 CE that have turkeys depicted on them. According to University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee art historian Andrea Stone, "turkeys were quintessential animals for feasting and for sacrificial offerings." The Maya even crafted tamales shaped like the birds.

22. During the 1970s, you could call Julia Child for turkey advice on Thanksgiving.

Julia Child in her kitchen in 1978
Lynn Gilbert via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

Even when she was at peak popularity, the famous chef refused to remove her phone number from public listings. According to friends, complete strangers would call Child on Thanksgiving to ask for advice on cooking the perfect turkey. Julia always answered the phone, and typically told callers whatever they needed to hear to get them to relax and enjoy the holiday. She even told some amateur cooks that turkey was best served cold anyway.

23. Big Bird is a turkey.

Big Bird and Elmo at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Getty / Matthew Peyton / Stringer

Well, according to Sesame Street, he’s actually a canary—but his plumage makes him a turkey. The good people at American Plume & Fancy Feather provide Sesame Street with several thousand turkey feathers per costume to make sure Big Bird looks soft and fluffy.

24. The bird is named after the country.

Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey
iStock

But the whole thing was a mistake. Centuries ago, the English began to import a rather tasty bird, now known as a helmeted guinea fowl, from Madagascar. But they didn’t know it was from Africa. Because it was imported to Europe from merchants in Turkey, the English believed the birds were also Turkish.

Later, when the Spanish arrived in the New World, they discovered Meleagris gallopavo—the wild turkey. It was delicious, so they started importing it back to Europe. Europeans thought it tasted like the “turkey” guinea fowl they had been enjoying, so they called it the same thing.

25. What, exactly, is dark meat?

Roasted turkey legs on a piece of butcher paper
iStock

It’s just a different type of muscle than white meat. White meat is the result of glycogen, which doesn't need much oxygen from the blood because the muscles it fuels only require short bursts of energy. Dark meat, however, is found on wings, thighs, and drumsticks—muscles that are used for long periods of time and require more sustainable energy. It’s made dark by the proteins that convert fat into energy.

26. Turkeys have two stomachs.

A close-up photo of a turkey looking at the camera
LUVHOTPEPPER/ISTOCK VIA GETTY IMAGES

Like all birds, turkeys don’t have teeth, so they’ve got to enlist some extra help to break down their food. Each swallowed mouthful goes first into a chamber called a proventriculus, which uses stomach acid to start softening the food. From there, food travels to the gizzard, where specialized muscles smash it into smaller pieces.

27. Eating turkey does not make you sleepy.

A group of turkeys looking at the camera
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Turkey meat does contain the amino acid tryptophan, and tryptophan can have a calming effect. However, you’d have to eat a whole lot of turkey—and nothing else—to notice any effect. The sleepy feeling that you feel after the big meal is more likely caused by carbs, alcohol, and generally eating to excess.

28. Turkeys sleep in trees.

Wild turkeys in a tree at night
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Due to their aforementioned deliciousness, turkeys have a lot of natural predators. As the sun goes down, the turkeys go up—into the trees. They start by flying onto a low branch, then clumsily hop their way upward, branch by branch, until they reach a safe height.

29. Both male and female turkeys have wattles.

Photo of a wild turkey
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The wattle is the red dangly bit under the turkey’s chin. The red thing on top of the beak is called a snood. Both sexes have those, too, but they’re more functional in male turkeys. Studies have shown that female turkeys prefer mates with longer snoods, which may indicate health and good genes.

30. Turkeys are fast on the ground, too.

A male turkey running
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You probably wouldn’t guess it by looking at them, but turkeys can really book it when they need to. We already know they’re fast in the air; on land, a running turkey can reach up to 25 mph—as fast as a charging elephant.

31. Turkeys are smart ... but not that smart.

Close-up of a trio of turkeys
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Turkeys can recognize each other by sound, and they can visualize a map of their territory. They can also plan ahead and recognize patterns. In other ways, they’re very, very simple animals. Male turkeys will attack anything that looks remotely like a threat, including their own reflections in windows and car doors.

32. Baby turkeys can fend for themselves.

A baby turkey
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Baby turkeys, or poults, are precocial. This means that they’ve already got downy feathers when they’re born, and they can walk, run, and get their own food. Turkey moms defend their poults from predators, but that’s about all they need to do. The fluffy chicks are pretty self-sufficient.

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