The Araucana (Spanish: Gallina Mapuche) is a breed of chicken originating in Chile. This chicken has been a subject of controversy regarding the possibility that the breed was developed from birds that arrived prior to Old World contact, which would make it the only chicken breed native to the Americas. It is well known for its blue eggs, which is caused by a DNA retrovirus that occurred sometime early in domestication. In the United States it may be known as the South American Rumpless, and may be confused with other fowl, especially the Ameraucana and Easter Egger.
Tailed vs Rumpless
While the Araucana comes both with tails and without (rumpless) there are differences in international perceptions of the accepted physical description of the bird varies with the North American varieties being rumpless, the British standards accepting both tailed and rumpless and the Australian standard accepting only tailed.
The ancestors of the modern Araucana chicken were purportedly first bred by the Araucanians (Spanish exonym for the Mapuche) of Chile—hence the name “Araucana”. The Araucana is a hybrid of two South American breeds: the Colloncas (a naturally blue-egg laying, rumpless, clean-faced chicken) and the Quetero (a pinkish-brown egg layer that has a long tail and prominent ear-tufts). The males of the Quetero have loud musical voices. The Colloncas male and female are very similar, with very few secondary sexual characteristics like comb, wattles or tail coverts to distinguish them.
The European equivalent of the North American show standard variety Araucana is what one comes across in South American villages. Tejudo or “Quechua” lack ear tufts but the face is densely feathered, an adaptation against severe cold and wet. It is the progenitor of the Ameraucana. The Chaco “Crested Mapuche” exhibits a prominent crest.
The current worldwide Araucana Standard (except North America) indicates a medium- to large-sized chicken with a tail that lays blue to turquoise eggs. Specific features are feather ear tufts, muffs, and beards, with a very much reduced comb, a small feather crest and a complete absence of wattles. The current North American standard calls for a chicken that is rumpless (missing their last vertebrae and lacking a tail), possesses ear-tufts (feathers that grow out from near the birds’ ears), and lays blue eggs. In the United States and Canada, muffs, beards, and tails are all disqualifications.
Helmut Sick notes that “a domestic fowl variety called Araucana Fowl, Chilean Hen, Creole Chicken, or Pre-Hispanic Chicken (G. inaurarus or G. castelloi) is erroneously assumed to be a hybrid of G. gallus domesticus and Tinamus solitarius”.
The Araucana’s eggs are not more nutritious than eggs of other colors, nor do they have any negative health effects.
Suggested Polynesian origin
There has long been debate whether Araucanas were bred from chickens brought by Europeans to South America after Columbus or rather arose from chickens brought, perhaps by Polynesians, directly over the Pacific Ocean from someplace nearer to all chickens’ presumed ancestral home in Southeast Asia. If Araucanas predate the Europeans in South America, their presence implies pre-Columbian, trans-Pacific contacts between Asia and South America. In 2007, an international team of scientists reported the results of analysis of chicken bones found on the Arauco Peninsula in south-central Chile, and their results were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States. This initial report suggested a Polynesian, pre-Columbian origin. However, a later report from the same specimens concluded:
A published, apparently pre-Columbian, Chilean specimen and six pre-European Polynesian specimens also cluster with the same European/Indian subcontinental/Southeast Asian sequences, providing no support for a Polynesian introduction of chickens to South America. In contrast, sequences from two archaeological sites on Easter Island group with an uncommon haplogroup from Indonesia, Japan, and China and may represent a genetic signature of an early Polynesian dispersal. Modeling of the potential marine carbon contribution to the Chilean archaeological specimen casts further doubt on claims for pre-Columbian chickens, and definitive proof will require further analyses of ancient DNA sequences and radiocarbon and stable isotope data from archaeological excavations within both Chile and Polynesia.
In the United States, the Araucana is classed as “All Other Standard Breeds” by the American Poultry Association and as “All Other Comb Clean Leg” by the American Bantam Association.
In Great Britain, both the Araucana and the Rumpless Araucana are classified by the Poultry Club of Great Britain as “Light, Soft Feather”.
The colours recognized by the APA/ABA/PCGB are:
The APA recognizes five colors: “Black, White, Black Breasted Red, Silver Duckwing, Golden Duckwing”.
The ABA recognizes six colors: “Black, White, Black Breasted Red, Blue, Buff, Silver”.
The PCGB recognizes 12 colors: “Lavender, Blue, Black/Red, Silver Duckwing, Golden Duckwing, Blue/Red, Pyle, Crele, Spangled, Cuckoo, Black and White”.
The Australian Poultry Standard recognises Black, Cuckoo, Lavender, Splash, White and any colour which is standard in Old English Game.
Araucana, Ameraucana or Easter Egger?
When the Araucana was first introduced to breeders worldwide in the mid-20th century, the genetics that produced tufts were recognized to also cause chick mortality. Two copies of the gene cause nearly 100% mortality shortly before hatching. The tufted gene is dominant, however. Because no living Araucana possesses two copies of the tufted gene, breeding any two tufted birds leads to half of the resulting brood being tufted with one copy of the gene, a quarter being clean-faced with no copy of the gene, and a quarter of the brood dead in the shell, having received two copies of the gene.
In the decades to follow, most breeders took one of two tacks—either to preserve the old style of bird, or to breed out the tufts while increasing productivity.
In 1976, the first standards for the breed were accepted by the APA, conforming to the traditional style. This was followed, in 1984, by a second standard for the “improved” variety.