Mystery Image Contest: November 4-18, 2013


This image is of the feathers of a male wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), a large species of bird that is native to North America. The wild turkey is able to live in a variety of habitats, though it usually keeps to forests and farmland. Wild turkeys make the same "gobble" vocalizations as their domesticated counterparts (which are of the same species), but are able to fly much longer distances than domestic turkeys. Domestic turkeys are also famously roasted and eaten for the holiday of Thanksgiving in the United States and Canada (which this year in the United States falls on November 28). To explain the traditional sedentary behavior of people following a Thanksgiving feast, one popular hypothesis attributed this to the tryptophan found in turkey meat. Tryptophan is an amino acid that has been linked with causing drowsiness. However, it turns out that the concentration of tryptophan found in turkey is similar to the concentration found in other meats, and one would need to eat an enormous quantity of turkey meat to even feel an effect from the tryptophan. It has now been demonstrated that post-feast drowsiness is caused by a spike in insulin levels in the body due to the large amount of carbohydrates consumed. So if you celebrate Thanksgiving this year with a roasted turkey, blame your post-meal sleepiness on the carbohydrates, not on the tryptophan!


This image is of a male wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo).

Photo Credit

Malene Thyssen via Wikimedia Commons

Winning Entry

Moira Kearney
University of Washington
Seattle, WA

For Educators

Teaching Support

When you think of a turkey, you most likely think of the bird and its biology. But when it comes to a Thanksgiving turkey, what may most come to mind is how it will taste as part of a traditional Thanksgiving meal. But, did you know that you can capitalize on students' interest in the Thanksgiving holiday to teach them some chemistry?

This month's Mystery Image would be a great jumping-off point to engage students in some activities that ivolve the chemistry of cooking and food. It could be used as an introduction to concepts from the changes in properties of materials to the chemicals in the food and how they can affect us. Does eating turkey really make you sleepy? How does a pop-up turkey thermometer work? How does cooking the turkey change its properties? What about those cranberries? 

The Science NetLinks resources listed below can help you get started. Enjoy!

Related Resources

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Science NetLinks Mystery Image Contest Rules and Regulations

What Is the

Mystery Image Contest?

The Mystery Image Contest offers the chance to identify a science-related object based on a close-up picture of it.