Naturalist Joe Hutto embarked on a unique, once-ina-a-lifetime scientific project that became much more than just science: he lived as a turkey for a year.
Joe explains his life as a turkey in this interview with New Scientist:
You lived with wild turkeys in rural Florida for over a year. How did it all begin?
I had been experimenting with the imprinting phenomenon - in which young animals become attached to the first moving object they encounter - for years, with many types of birds and mammals. Wild turkeys are difficult to come by, so when I lucked upon some wild turkey eggs I decided: OK, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
These turkeys regarded you as their mother. Was that a lot of responsibility?
It was, because wild turkeys are precocial - they are born fully alert and ambulatory and don't stay in the nest. They have to imprint at birth so they know who mum is, and they can't be left alone at all. I realised that if I was going to do this project then it was going to be a 24-hour-a-day commitment, which I was willing to do.
What did being their mother mean in practice?
I had to be with them before daylight so that when they flew down from the roost their mother was there waiting, and I had to remain with them until after dark. If I tried to leave before it was completely dark they would fly down and try to follow me, and then they were left on the ground, where they were vulnerable to snakes or weasels.
Was your research scientific?
It started out as a science project but it became more than that to me. I found it impossible to avoid a very personal involvement, so a certain scientific empiricism and detachment was immediately lost in the process.