Poultrydom’s Mystery Chicken:

The Araucana

Blue Eggs - Rumpless - Earrings

Original Article by William O. Cawley, Texas A & M University (1979)

The Araucana chicken has been surrounded by mystery and half-truths since it’s general introduction to the poultry world by Professor Salvador Castello during thew First World’s poultry Congress at the Hague (Holland) in 1921.


The director of the Royal Poultry School of Barcelona, Spain, told the first congress, "On August 6, 1914, I crossed the Straights of Magellan at Punta Arenas, where I noticed a number of hampers containing bluish colored eggs for sale. The bluish color made me think that they were duck’s eggs. But I was told they were hen’s eggs and that the greater part of the eggs produced in Chili were of a bluish color. I was astonished, for neither in Europe, Asia, or North America have we ever seen bluish colored hen’s eggs.: (Castello, 1924)

Castello describes the blue-egg-laying hens native to the Araucania section of Chili as rather small and rumpless with a total absence of a tail head. These hens also had two tufts of feathers hanging by a fine thread of elastic skin from each side of the head.

According to Castello, the females all had small single combs and clean (non feathered) yellow or white shanks, with the yellow being much more common. The feather color, while generally white or white with red Wings (the pyle color pattern?), was extremely varied.

Presenting photographs of selected birds, Castello (1921) proposed the scientific name Gallus inauris for the new breed, which means "hens with earrings."

Unfortunately, most reports concerning the discovery of the Araucana have been based on this 1921 Castello report. Few writers refer to Castello’s presentations to the Second (1924) and Seventh (1939) World’s Poultry Congress at Barcelona, Spain and Cleveland, Ohio, respectively. Photographs exhibited by Castello at the 1921 Congress indicated that the three traits - rumpless, "earrings" (ear-tufts) and the blue egg gene - - were all found in the same individual birds within the native flocks of Araucania. This was an error, and Professor Castello appeared before the Second World’s Poultry Congress at Barcelona, Spain in 1924 to set the record straight.

At this second meeting of world poultry leaders, Castello (1924) admitted dr. Ruben Bustos, "patriarch of Chilean aviculture" had led him to believe the chickens which Castello had viewed and photographed during the International Poultry Exhibition in Santiago, Chili, in 1914 were native fowl. The truth was, these birds were not native fowl but the product of many years of selective breeding by Dr. Bustos.

Professor Castello (1924) found there were actually three types of Chilean chickens:

1) The common fowl which did not differ physically from European birds, but in which blue egg laying families were frequently found.

2) The rumpless chicken or Collonca. Castello said, :The characteristic of blue eggs is so common in Araucania, nearly all Colloncas (rumpless hens) lay eggs of this color."

3) The fowl with the feather tufts (Quetero) suspended from each side of the head by a fine thread of elastic skin. These birds had a normal body shape and families which produced blue eggs were rare.

On further investigation, Professor Castello (1924) found that seldom if ever did all three traits (rumpless, tufts, and blue eggs) appear in an individual native bird, and the appearance of these three traits in the same individual was a very abnormal condition.

Unconfirmed reports indicate the Spanish-speaking scientific community forced Dr. Bustos to make a public apology for misleading Professor Castello.

Bustos is reported to have learned of the rumpless, blue-egg-producing birds while serving as an Army officer in the jungles of Araucania during the "Pacific war" (Castello 1924). Bustros is quoted as saying, "One of the Indian war chiefs told me, he preferred the rumpless birds because the fox always caught it’s victim by the tail, and therefore if the fowl has no tail, they could easily escape the fox."

While visiting another war chief, Bustos encountered the "earring" or ear-tufted variety for the first time (Castello, 1924). Bustos said, "These birds lived in a semi-wild state, roosting in the trees and when the cock crows it finishes off with a strange sound not unlike the laughter of a man." Castello adds, "the natives call these birds ‘Queteros’. In Spanish queteros means an old cock which cannot crow anymore or which attempts to crow without being able to finish it off normally." He speculates, that "Either the native got the word form the Spaniards or the latter adopted it form the Indians. " Prado (1922) indicates quetero was derived form the Araucana word kerto meaning stammering.

Most authorities agree the Pratt Experiment Farm of Morton, Pennsylvania, imported the first known Araucanas to North America. This importation, December 15, 1924, included two males and five females (Keller, 1925). However, Jeffrey (1974) reports that the American Poulterers Companion published in 1856 mentioned the importation (to the United States) of hens producing blue eggs.

The 1925 March, April, and May issues of the Reliable Poultry Journal contained a series of articles on the Araucanas by the man credited with the first importation, J. W. Keller, Director, Pratt Experiment Farm.



The eminent naturalist Darwin concluded that all domestic fowl originated from a common ancestor - the Gallus bankiva or Gallus gallus or by it’s popular name, the Red Jungle Fowl (Jull, 1927). Many scientists agree with this theory, while there are many who do not. It is very difficult to imagine the graceful curving Leghorn, the wide squatty Cornish and the large loose feathered Cochin all springing from the same small, tree roosting red jungle Fowl.

Another much debated question is whether or not chickens were present in the New World before Columbus arrived. There were strong indications that chickens were introduced several times to the West Cost and South America by travelers form Asia long before the Spaniards made their appearance.

According to Carter (1971) the Araucana Indians, who remained free of Spanish influence with their culture fairly well intact until the 19th century, raised breeds of fowl which had black shanks and skin (melanotic), silkie feathers, red earlobes, pea combs, rumpless and laid brown or tinted eggs. All of these characteristics are of Asiatic origin. Most Asiatic chickens were unknown in Europe until the 189th century when so-called "hen fever" led to the wholesale importation of exotic fowl.

To strengthen this theory that chickens beat Columbus to the Americas, Carter (1971) points out that spot records prove chickens were well established when the first Spaniard entered the interior of Brazil in 1544. Counting from the first verified European contact with the Indians in 1519, this would mean that chickens had spread over and area larger than the United States in 15 years. This spread would have been accomplished at a rate of 200 miles per year though primitive tribes, most of which spoke different dialects with very little communication or transportation. An adoption rate of this speed is inconsistent with the knowledge that the spread of chickens through Europe, Asia, and Eurasia occurred at the rate of 1 or 2 miles per year. If the Spanish did introduce chickens to the New World, a spread which required 1,500 years to move through Europe required only 15 years to cover most of South America. This does not seem likely.

The various names which the Indian tribes have for chickens are not Spanish or Portuguese, according to Carter (1971). The root word used to designate chicken by the South American Indian tribes is similar to the Hindu term for chicken - ‘kara’. Among the Tarahumor Indians, the name for chicken is ‘totri’ which is also the Japanese name. But in Northern Venezuela, records show there were no chickens there when Spaniards arrived, so these people obviously obtained their fowl from Europe. Today the Indian names for chicken in Northern Venezuela are derived from ‘gallo’ and ‘gallina’ which are e Spanish in origin.

Castello (1924) points out that the natives of Araucania called the hen, ‘ackual’, the cock, ‘alka’, and the egg, ‘runto, none of which are of Spanish root. He believes that, "this indicates that natives knew and kept fowl before the Spanish arrived."

Pinpointing the origin of the Araucana hen, Onelli (1923) writes, "beyond a doubt the hen laying blue-shelled eggs came from South America between 37 degrees and 43 degrees lattude and the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Mountains." Continuing, Onelli (1923) says, Missionaries and historians from the year 1560 to the 17th century have always said, ‘TheAraucana Indians knew and domesticated these hens before the arrival of the European classes of hens. This is proven for it is the only domestic animal which has an Araucana name.

Vosburg (1948) also indicates hens laying blue eggs were mentioned in reports about the Indians of Southern Chile as long ago as 1880. The convincing circumstantial evidence offered by the above writers indicates the Indian tribes of South America kept domestic fowl with Asiatic characteristics far in advance of the white mans’s arrival onthat continent. However, as interesting and important as this fact may be, it still does not explain the blue eggs or ear-tufts of the Araucana breed.

Several theories have been offered as to how the blue-egg gene entered the nativefl ocks of Araucania. The naturalist Uldorocio Prado, (1922) Professor, Catholic University of Santiago Chile, indicated the blue-shell characteristic does not seem to have appeared among certain groups of Araucana Indians in Chile before the 19th cen- tury. Blue eggs were unknown in Santiago and countries to the north in 1880. "If it had existed in the 18th century, travelers, narrators or historians would have made mention of these and they would have been carried back to Spain." His points seem logical, but other writers refer to early reports (which mention blue eggs) dating back as far as 1560. It is surprising how many Americans have never heard of the blue egg, even in this day of mass communication and transportation. Even after the Araucana was brought to the world’s attention in 1921, it was almost 2 years before an article on blue eggs appeared in a leading poultry magazine.

One of the most reasonable theories on the origin of the blue eggs was offered by Castello (1924). He believed the Araucana hen was a descendent of an ancient gallina-cies called Chachalaca, which was know as the "American Pheasant", He claimed the Chachalaca cock was often crossed with the native hens to obtain a better fighting stock and the hybrid female form this cross laid blue eggs. The blue egg gene is found in some species of pheasant and not others, Punnett (1933) reports. Hybrids can readily be obtained by crossing the pheasant and domestic fowl, but these hybrids have proven sterile. Punnett does say, "It is conceivable fertile offspring occurred, but in this case he would expect to find evidence of the blue egg gene among the domestic fowl of native chickens of Costa Rica lay an egg of absolutely brilliant green color".

Finsterbusch believed there were no domestic fowl in South America before the white man arrived (Punnett, 1933). Finsterbusch theo- rized the Indian crossed Spanish poultry with Balinese chickens brought to Chile by Dutch pirates. He suggested the greenish and bluish egg color was due to the loss of red pigment brought about through the imported stock form Bali. (ALL genetic studies concerning the inheritance of the blue-shelled egg have since disproven this theory.)

Despite the many interesting theories, like the turkey, and Muscovy duck, there does not seem to be a logical explanation for the origin of the Araucan hen.


Editors Note: For more information on the Araucana breed, consult the American Stan- dard of Perfection (APA), The Bantam Stan- dard (ABA) or go to the current breed club websites: 1) Araucana Club of America, http://www.araucana.net, or 2) Canadian Araucana Society, http://members.shaw.ca/ CanadianAraucanaSociety/.



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