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What is that on my chicken’s head?
A chicken’s comb is the fleshy red crest that grows on top of its head. Both males (roosters) and females (hens) have combs, but they are typically larger and more pronounced on males.
What is the purpose of having a comb?
Chicken’s use their comb to regulate body temperature. Since chickens do not sweat, they use the parts of their bodies not covered in feathers to dissipate heat. The size and shape of a chicken’s comb is closely linked to where their breed originated. Chicken breeds originating from hot climates will have larger combs, providing more surface area to dissipate heat. Chicken breeds from cold climates will have smaller combs, reducing the risk of frostbite.
Combs are also thought to aid in attracting mates. A suitor with a big, bright red, flashy comb is more appealing to the ladies, as it signals health and vitality. There is also a correlation between the color and size of a comb and testosterone levels.
A chicken’s comb type is determined by two different genes. One is the rose comb gene, the other is the pea comb gene. Every type of comb is a result of different combinations of these two genes. Unofficially, there are nine comb types as follows:
The buttercup comb is shaped like a pointed crown. It begins with a single point at the base of the beak, splitting in to two ridges of points to form a circular cup on the chicken’s head.
Breeds with a buttercup comb: Sicilian Buttercup
The carnation comb is very similar to a single comb, but at the back of the comb, there are multiple points extending out to the sides.
Breeds with a carnation comb: Penedesenca, Empordanesa
The cushion comb is small, round, smooth, and solid. It is low and compact without points or ridges.
Breeds with a cushion comb: Chantecler, select bantam types
The medium-sized pea comb features three lengthwise ridges from the base of the beak to the top of the head. The center ridge is slightly larger than the two outer ridges. This comb type is named as such because it sometimes looks like a row of peas.
The rose comb is a solid, tube-shaped comb that extends from the base of the beak all the way to the back of the head. The front of the comb is broad and flat, and covered in small round bumps. The comb ends in a pointed spike that can curve upwards, downwards, or be horizontal, depending on the breed.
The single comb is the most recognizable, and what people typically think of when envisioning a chicken. It is a thin comb with a series of five or six points that begins at the base of the beak and ends at the back of the head. These ridges can either stand upright or flop over to the side.
Breeds with a single comb: Ancona, Andalusian, Australorp, Black Star, Campine, Cochin, Cornish, Delaware, Dorking, Egyptian Fayoumi, Jersey Giant, Lakenvelder, Langshan, Leghorn, Maran, Minorca, Naked Neck, New Hampshire, Orpington, Phoenix, Plymouth Rock, Red Star, Rhode Island Red, Salmon Favorelles, Speckled Sussex, White Faced Black Spanish
The walnut comb is the result of combining dominant genes for the Rose comb and the pea comb. It is a medium sized, solid comb, with a bumpy surface like a walnut shell.
Breeds with a walnut comb: Orloff, Silkie