Where did I get my Internet handle? Answer below the fold…
Many years ago, when my wife signed up for AOL (at the time when that was still a rational choice), all the rest of the family could add their own e-mail addresses. I thought it might be a good idea to have an AOL addresss to serve as a public address for everyone to know – spam and all.
So, I tried to pick various nice names but, nope, they were all taken, so in the end I thought nobody on Earth would have “coturnix”. Well, one other person did, but I added number 1 to it and it’s been serving me well for many years now. When asked to sign in on various blogs and forums, I had to type in the e-mail address so I chose the public one, and then I had to invent a handle and there it was, staring me in the face. Years later, I am still better known as “Coturnix” than by my own name.
But why Coturnix? Because that is my laboratory research animal – the Japanese quail. If the chicken is the rat of the avian labs, the quail is the mouse: smaller, hardier, more social (so one can put more of them in the same amount of space), breeds faster, develops faster…everything one wishes a lab model to be. And every gene of the quail is between 95 and 100% identical to chicken (whose genome has been sequenced), so all the chicken probes work and more and more quail genes are now sequenced easily, just by comparison to the chicken.
Japanese quail (Coturnix japonica), also known as the Asian Migratory Quail (‘A’ on the map of distribution), is a gallinaceous bird from the family Phasianidae. Until 1960s it was thought to be a subspecies of European Migratory Quail (Coturnix coturnix, “E” on the map), but now considered to be a separate species. The breeding range of the wild population encompasses Siberia, Mongolia, northeastern China and Japan, while the wintering range is over south and southeastern Asia. Its range during the winter overlaps with the European quail, but there is no hanky-panky going on at wintering grounds, so the two species do not mix (although they readily mate and hybridize in the lab).
These birds were domesticated in Japan for song contests – surprising to our Western sensibilities as their song is an ugly loud crow. During World War II most of the domesticated stock was lost (the farms were bombed by the Allies, and the birds either died or flew away free) and the remaining birds were crossed with imports from Korea and China and selected for egg and meat productivity.
Wild and feral quail in Japan also migrate from island to island. Attempts to release Japanese quail in North America for hunting were not successful. Very fast maturation, prolific reproduction, and ease of husbandry, made the Japanese quail a popular laboratory animal in the fields of developmental, neuroendocrine and behavioral biology.
Coturnix quail is officially poultry. They are bred on farms for eggs and meat, and some of those birds are more than twice as big as the laboratory strains (or the wild ones). A white strain which also lays white eggs has also been artificially selected. The meat is delicious and the eggs are sold in Europe for big money as health food (or even alternative medicine) with, they say among else, aphrodisiac properties.