Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? The chicken, no the egg, no the chicken, no the egg. It’s enough to make your head spin right off your neck. We’ve all been through the logic; most of us end up at the same place. As Luna Lovegood, the dreamy yet dotty witch from Harry Potter put it when asked the riddle, “a circle has no beginning.” And indeed, attempting to identify the first case of a circular cause and consequence is an exercise in utter futility. For those who don’t have a pat story involving a divine being who spits out perfectly formed species, it’s a no-win situation.

But that doesn’t stop us from asking. Luckily for people kept awake at night by such quandaries, NPR radio’s Robert Krulwich recently got to the bottom of the dilemma when he, thankfully, stumbled across an answer.

Basically, many, many moons ago there was a chicken-like bird. It was genetically close to a chicken, but wasn’t a full-blown chicken yet. Krulwich calls it a proto-chicken. So proto-hen laid an egg, and proto-rooster fertilized it. But when the genes from ma and pa almost-chicken fused, they combined in a new way, creating a mutation that accidently made the baby different from its parents. Although it would take millennia for the difference to be noticed, that egg was different enough to become the official progenitor of a new species, now known as … the chicken! So in a nutshell (or an eggshell, if you like), two birds that weren’t really chickens created a chicken egg, and hence, we have an answer: The egg came first, and then it hatched a chicken.

Maybe the question we should be asking is: Which came first, the proto-chicken or the proto-chicken egg?


Robert Krulwich (NPR radio correspondent)


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