I LOVE a good debate, but there’s no debate here, just a bit of a misunderstanding.
“What came first, the chicken or the egg?” is a question that’s been lurking around unanswered for so long that it’s ‘a thing’. The chicken and egg dilemma is used all the time as a way to describe a situation where nobody knows which of two co-dependent events is the cause and which is the effect. In big-girl lingo, it’s a metaphoric adjective.
Let’s start with a different question:
Q: Why has nobody managed to answer the chicken and egg question yet?
A: Ask a stupid question…Get a stupid answer!
The problem with the age-old chicken and egg question is that it isn’t specific enough.
What do you really want to know?
Q: What Came First, The Chicken or THE Egg?
A: THE Egg🥚 did.
Eggs were around long before chickens.
Eggs don’t have to be shell bound like chicken eggs. All plants and animals which have nucleus-centered cells produce female-specific reproductive cells known as eggs. For context, that’s 99.9% of living things. The other 0.1% are known as Prokaryotes: very simple organisms like bacteria.
These amniotic eggs are evidenced to have been around roughly 340 million years ago. Chickens only rocked up around 58 thousand years ago.
You can’t argue with this maths, so if you take the infamous which-came-first question at face value, then I’m adamant that the egg came first.
“Eggs were around way before chickens even existed.”(Australian Academy of Science)
The facts get a bit fuzzy when you interpret the question as it was probably intended:
Q: What Came First, The Chicken or The CHICKEN’S Egg?
A: I still say the egg did!
Chickens descended from Red junglefowl, which are tropical birds still frequenting the forests of Southeast Asia. They were bred with other jungle fowl, one being the Indian Grey junglefowl, which is how the chicken got its yellow skin.
Nobody knows how or when in their journey, these birds were introduced to each other. Regardless of the details, the domestic chicken’s lineage isn’t up for debate. The theory was advanced by Charles Darwin and later backed by DNA analysis.
It's agreed that the goal of this early breeding program was to tame the little terrors so that their eggs and meat could be harvested.
The chicken was the first domesticated animal.
This egg-sperimental breeding would have been a labor of love (or need), and the fine-tuning of the bird we now know as our chunky, egg-popping chicken, would have happened gradually over generations of weird-jungley-chickeny-hybridy-birds.
The Red junglefowl (Gallus gallus) would have slowly become more domesticated and ‘chickeny’. One day, someone decided they were no longer weird jungle babies, but a recognizable species of their own: Gallus gallus domesticus,aka chickens.
That first domesticated diva had no idea she was the start of something so huge! One thing’s for sure though, she hatched out of an egg. She was who she was – a chicken zygote – before she hatched.
Again…the chicken egg came first.
“Before that first true chicken zygote, there were only non-chickens. The zygote cell is the only place where DNA mutations could produce a new animal, and the zygote cell is housed in the chicken's egg. So, the egg must have come first.” (HowStuffWorks.com)
It seems that however you interpret the question, the answer is that the egg came first. So why the big debate? It’s good to see both sides of any argument, so in the interest of a balanced approach, let's have a peck at the chicken-first argument:
The only scenario where you could argue that the chicken came first, is if you define a chicken’s egg as an egg laid by a chicken. Is a chicken’s egg an egg laid by a chicken, or the egg that a chicken hatches out of?
There is no scientific clarity on what defines the species status of an egg (its parents or its resident) this argument is a tough egg to crack.
“The egg definitely came first. Unless you restate the question as ‘which came first, the chicken or the chicken’s egg?’ Then it very much depends on how you define a chicken’s egg.”(New Scientist)
If you’re team chicken, then you believe that as the first chicken hatched out of a junglefowl’s egg, and so the chicken came before the egg. Then - as the very first chicken to grace the Earth – that hen laid the first chicken’s egg.
To add a little weight to the chicken-first argument, chicken eggs contain a unique protein called ovocleidin-17.It’s involved in the laying down of calcium to form eggshells and is thought to be the reason chickens can lay so frequently.
“One such protein, called ovocleidin-17 (or OC-17 for short), is only found in the ovary of a chicken, leading to the suggestion that the chicken must have come before the chicken egg since without OC-17, there can be no chicken egg formation.” (Australian Academy of Science)
The question isn’t that big of a dilemma IF you’re clear about what you’re asking, AND you’ve chosen your school of thought about the definition of an egg.
Can we all chill out for a minute and stop obsessing over order and terminology. Nature is not black and white, and chickens are an egg-stremely diverse species, thanks to us busy-body humans.
We all know that the leap from one breed (or species) to another, doesn’t happen with one single offspring. We can’t pin down the moment monkeys became men to a single chap called Carl, and we can’t pinpoint the moment jungle fowl became domestic chickens to a single egg or bird.
THE ANSWER(S) IN AN EGGSHELL:
A: EGGS came before chickens
A: Chickens and CHICKEN EGGS evolved gradually from junglefowl.
I’m guessing I’ve answered one question for you, but hatched more:
What defines the species of an egg?
When does one species become another?
What happened to Carl?
Welcome to poultry life!😊 Prepare to have your brain permanently pickled by the who, where, what’s and when’s of chicken-based conundrums. Raising chickens – and yes, eggs🥚 – will scramble your brains daily, but I promise you they’re worth it. (this text would be great Pin or post for social media)
Finding easy-to-understand, reliable, and helpful advice can be daunting. Nobody seems to agree on anything on social media, and there is so much information out there it’s hard to know what to believe.
My friends over at Chickenpedia offer a suite of super-simple but egg-stensive courses so you can start your chicken journey on the right foot, rather than winging it.
The question is, what will you get first? A chicken…or an egg?