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Beard Rot Does Not Exist

THROWBACK TT Sept 14, 2021 | This Turkey Tuesday is about melanin, the pigment that makes beards on wild turkeys black. Have you ever heard someone claim they harvested a tom with beard rot? Well, beard rot does not exist. Rather, the condition exhibited by the tom in this picture stems from a melanin deficiency. Melanin is the most common pigment in birds, and melanin production occurs partially through interactions between amino acids released from nutrients in foods that turkeys eat and enzymes in the skin. Beards grow several inches per year, and when melanin production is interrupted, the beard gets a rust or blond colored streak in it. Disruption in melanin production is often linked to nutrition (vitamin deficiencies), which could be linked to other issues like injuries, or illness. Melanin production usually picks back up and the beard continues to grow and show the normal color. However, the lack of melanin causes the beard to become brittle and it often breaks – appearing as if the beard was cut. Occasionally, you see toms with beards that are entirely rust or blond colored, indicating either a more chronic issue with melanin production or a genetic mutation. In northern areas, formation of ice balls in beards can cause breaks, but in southern areas melanin deficiencies are usually the culprit.

Photo © Tes Randle Jolly

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