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The turkey: from the 14th century

The turkey is indigenous to central and north America. It is kept as a domestic fowl by the Aztecs in Mexico from the 14th century, and no doubt has been domesticated considerably earlier by their predecessors.

Turkeys are brought to Europe by the Spanish in the early 16th century. They become popular throughout the continent, and in the 17th century are taken back across the Atlantic by English settlers. Interbred with wild turkeys of north America, they develop into the breeds known there today.

The bee space: 1851

An American clergyman, the Rev. L.L. Langstroth, puts to practical use the very precise habits of bees. Other beekeepers in the 19th century have begun putting into the hives removable frames, in which the bees will build their honeycombs, but the bees clog the spaces up with wax and honey. In 1851 Langstroth discovers that if the frames are an exact distance apart (a little more than a quarter of an inch), the workers will keep each honey-filled frame neat and separate.

A gap which is larger or smaller does not have the same effect. The 'bee space' becomes an established principle, and the Langstroth hive is still the type used by beekeepers today.

The ostrich: 19th - 20th century

In addition to the standard domesticated animals, many others have been kept or are now kept by humans for a wide range of purposes.

A good example is the ostrich. In the late 19th-century the fashion for ostrich feathers, in hats or fans, causes farmers to domesticate and breed this largest of birds. In the late 20th-century there is more interest in it for its meat.

The hamster: 1930

In the ongoing story of domestication, the remarkable case of the golden hamster is a good detail for a closing chapter. In 1930 a female hamster with twelve young is captured at Aleppo in Syria. Taken to the laboratory at the Hebrew university in Jerusalem, they are bred for use in experiments. Each female has several litters a year, so the numbers rapidly grow. Other laboratories secure their own supply from Jerusalem. Then somebody notices that this little animal - chubby, with puffed out cheeks and soft fur - has considerable charm as a pet for children.

Half a century on the golden hamster is a common domesticated animal. Every single hamster in capitivity descends from that first Syrian litter.

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