PacSci Perspectives

Hatching (Chicken) Eggs In The Dino Exhibit

by | Jan 7, 2016

Ever gazed at the clutch of eggs in our dinosaur exhibit and longed for them to be real? Now, thanks to a new exhibit we’re prototyping in our Dinosaurs: A Journey Through Time exhibit, you’ll be able to see real, live eggs warming in an incubator—and then hatching. The twist? They’re chicken eggs!

Birds are considered the closest living relative to dinosaurs. “We want people to see a living dinosaur among its extinct relatives,” says Life Sciences Manager Sarah Moore. “I’m hoping people will ask: Why are these eggs here? Are they meant to be dino eggs? Are they bird eggs? What is the link between birds and dinosaurs? Is evolution still going on?”

The idea for the exhibit was sparked by the observations of a young girl looking at baby chicks that had lost fuzz but not yet grown feathers for flight. “She noticed they looked a little like predatory dinosaurs without tails,” Moore says. “You could see scales on their skin and you could see their ancestor was a dinosaur.”

Some paleontologists are working with chickens to visualize the steps between birds and their dinosaur-like ancestors. In some experiments, after deactivating certain genes, embryonic chicks grow teeth and reptilian-like skulls. “Think of how heavy teeth are,” Moore says. “Losing teeth gave birds the lightness to fly.”

Look for the incubator in our dinosaur area January through March. Staff will candle the eggs daily, shining a bright light through the shells to monitor development. The chicks are likely to hatch in February.

Learn more about this experiment in this PacSci Podcast:

Frequently Asked Questions

What's Going On?
In an incubator we are hatching up to 24 chicks in the corner of the Dinosaur Exhibit in Building 1. These are chicken eggs. They will hatch into baby chicks sometime between February 20 – 24. We will house the chicks for 21 days, until approximately March 10 – 14. This is a temporary exhibit.
Why Are We Hatching Chicken Eggs In The Dinosaur Exhibit?
We are working with the University of Washington Museology program to observe guest interaction in the Dinosaur exhibit.  We want to understand if and how guest interaction with the current dinosaur content changes when eggs/chicks/young chickens are present.

Scientists who study relationships between living organisms (cladistics) think of chicks and other birds as dinosaurs – or at least their closest living relatives. Birds have beaks and feathers. Dinosaurs had teeth and tails. But they are not that different underneath.

Paleontologists have found fossil dinosaurs with feathers and fossils of dinosaurs caring for their nests just as many modern birds do. They have also found dinosaurs with bone structure and fossilized heart tissue that looks like they were warm blooded. Because they are small and delicate, birds do not fossilize as well as their bigger cousins so we may never find the very earliest birds.

We would like to see whether including a live bird in our exhibit area will spark conversations about this relationship. We chose chickens for a number of reasons. Chickens are familiar. A lot of people have them, and we knew we could place them into homes that wanted them. Seattle is a chicken-positive city. Beyond that, chickens are a frequent model used to understand the bird/dinosaur relationship. For example, their walk helped paleontologists understand how bipedal dinosaurs may have walked.

Incubator vs. Natural Nesting
  • Whenever animals are on exhibit there is a tension between natural vs. artificial environments. At Pacific Science Center we are sensitive to this tension with every animal in our care. Like our tide pool, our naked mole rats, and all exhibit animals, the eggs in this temporary Dinosaur exhibit are provided with the most humane conditions possible while at the same time, allowing our guests to observe, wonder, inquire and learn.
  • In setting up the incubator, we chose a unit with automatic egg turning. This ensures that the eggs will be turned continually without the possibility of human error.
  • The chicks are monitored 7 days a week. Although animal care is not with them all the time, this incubator has hands’ on, eyes’ on monitoring! No matter how carefully we prepare, we know that some eggs are lost during the incubation process. This would be true whether it’s a natural or artificial process.
  • We are prepared for the hatchlings. We will give the chicks enough room that overcrowding will not be an issue; a common concern for incubator reared chicks.
  • A common fear of egg hatching exhibits is that the chicks will be sent to large scale farms or given to unprepared caretakers after they stop being ‘cute’. These chicks will be placed in family homes through Seattle Farm Cooperative (learn more about them here): As roosters are not legal within city limits, efforts will be made to place any hatchlings that are roosters into homes where they can be legally kept.
  • Pacific Science Center respects the views of our guests. If people have questions that cannot be answered, or simply want to pass on their thoughts, our Animal Care Department or Guest Services Supervisors are always ready to listen.
What Will Happen With The Chickens After They Hatch?
  • Chicks in excess of five for the exhibit will go to Seattle Farm Cooperative immediately upon successfully hatching.
  • Pacific Science Center is not able to adopt or sell these chickens.
Why Can't I Hold Or Pet The Chick?
  • These chicks are young and fragile. Unnecessary handling as well as germs from our hands can stress and weaken them at a critical time in their lives. Their social needs are met by being together and by the brief handling they get during their daily well-check by trained animal care staff.
  • We also want to protect the public from germs. Any animal may carry germs, and any time you handle an animal you need to wash your hands when you are done.
  • Birds and reptiles can be carriers of the Salmonella bacteria, which can make people sick if it gets into their digestive system. Most people who get this disease get it from undercooked food, but handling animals is another way it spreads.

Girl with flowers in her hair using a microscope