Mike the Headless Chicken

Wyandotte chicken

Mike the Headless Chicken also known as Miracle Mike, was a Wyandotte chicken that lived for 18 months after his head had been mostly cut off. Thought by many to be a hoax, the bird’s owner took him to the University of Utah in Salt Lake City to establish the facts of the story.

In 1945, farmer Lloyd Olsen of Fruita, Colorado had his mother-in-law around for supper and was sent out to the yard by his wife to bring back a chicken. Olsen chose a five-and-a-half-month-old cockerel named Mike. The axe missed the jugular vein, leaving one ear and most of the brain stem intact. Despite Olsen’s botched handiwork, Mike was still able to balance on a perch and walk clumsily; he even attempted to preen and crow, although he could do neither.

After the bird did not die, a surprised Mr. Olsen decided to continue to care permanently for Mike, feeding him a mixture of milk and water via an eyedropper; he was also fed small grains of corn. When used to his new and unusual center of mass, Mike could easily get himself to the highest perches without falling. His crowing, though, was less impressive and consisted of a gurgling sound made in his throat, leaving him unable to crow at dawn. Mike also spent his time preening and attempting to peck for food with his neck.

Once his fame had been established, Mike began a career of touring sideshows in the company of such other creatures as a two-headed calf. He was also photographed for dozens of magazines and papers, featuring in ‘Time’ and ‘Life’ magazines. Mike was on display to the public for an admission cost of twenty five cents. At the height of his popularity, the chicken earned US$4,500 per month and was valued at $10,000. Olsen’s success resulted in a wave of copycat chicken beheading, but no other chicken lived for more than a day or two.

In 1947, at a motel in Phoenix on a stopover while traveling back home from tour, Mike started choking in the middle of the night. As the Olsens had inadvertently left their feeding and cleaning syringes at the sideshow the day before, they were unable to save Mike.

Post mortem it was determined that the axe had missed the carotid artery and a clot had prevented Mike from bleeding to death. Although most of his head was severed, most of his brain stem and one ear were left on his body. Since basic functions (breathing, heart-rate, etc.) as well as most of a chicken’s reflex actions are controlled by the brain stem, Mike was able to remain quite healthy. This is a good example of central motor generators enabling basic homeostatic functions to be carried out in the absence of the cerebral cortex.

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