Caruncles, Combs and Wattles: The Features, Functions and Healthcare

A caruncle is “a naked, fleshy outgrowth,” according to Meriam Webster’s Dictionary. It generally refers to the protuberances found on the head...
By Demosthine · Jun 1, 2013 · Updated Jun 30, 2013 · ·
  1. Demosthine
    Caruncles, Combs and Wattles
    The Features, Functions and Healthcare

    A caruncle is “a naked, fleshy outgrowth,” according to Meriam Webster’s Dictionary. It generally refers to the protuberances found on the head and neck including the combs, earlobes, snoobs and wattles. Their purposes vary, but include controlling the body temperature to aiding in mating.

    The color of the combs and wattles does not necessarily indicate the health of your poultry. The brilliance of their colors will be affected by various factors including breed, diet, their mating status and temperatures. Ayam Cemani and Silkies, for instance, have black combs. A rooster’s comb will typical swell slightly and become a more brilliant color during mating, in an attempt to attract the hens. Warmer temperatures may also cause a brilliant coloring due to the extra blood flowing through the caruncles in an attempt to cool the birds. Additionally, as shown in the photo of the Silkie below, the combs and wattles can have multiple colors. This does not indicate a health concern.

    Courtesy Of: LCahill
    Ayam Cemani
    Courtesy Of: Mama Hen Chris
    Cecil, Silkie

    The fleshy growth or crest atop various birds’ heads is known is the comb. These are mostly commonly known in chickens, turkeys and pheasants. There are currently 9 recognized combs: buttercup, cushion, pea, rose, single, strawberry, Silkie, V and walnut combs.

    The comb serves several functions. The primary function of the comb it to aid in the cooling of the birds. This is done through vascular blood flow in both the combs and wattles. Depending on the local climate, the comb can be vital to their survival or it can be the key to their untimely death.

    Buttercup Comb

    Breeds: Sicilian Buttercup

    The buttercup comb is a bowl shaped crown that sits atop the center of the skull. The deep recess in the center is completely surrounded by points or serrations, with a single lead in the front above the beak. There is a fine texture on the comb.

    The only breed known to have the buttercup comb is the Sicilian Buttercup, making it increasingly rare. They were imported from the Island of Sicily as hatching eggs during the 19th Century and was accepted in to the American Poultry Association’s Standards of Perfection in 1918.

    Cushion Comb

    Courtesy Of:RhodeRunner
    Partridge Chanteclar
    1 Year, Cockerel

    Breeds: Chanteclar

    This type of comb is small and sits low on the head. The top, front, and rear are smooth, while the sides are regularly straight. Each corner is rounded and there are no points, serrations or textures to the cushion comb. Unlike the rose comb or strawberry comb, the cushion comb starts at the approximate place where the beak meets the skull and extends to the middle of the skull.

    The cushion comb is exclusive to the Chanteclar breed that was developed in Quebec. The development began in 1908 to produce a chicken that was ideal for egg and meat production in Canada.

    Pea Comb

    Courtesy Of: MooMee56
    Louie, Brahma
    1 Year, Cockerel

    Breeds: Ameraucana, Araucana, Asil, Brahma, Buckeye, Cornish, Cubalaya, Shamo, Sumatra, Yokohama

    Although similar to the cushion comb or strawberry comb, the pea comb has marked differences that put it in a class all of its own. The pea comb is a medium length comb that sits low on the head. It is distinguished by the three ridge lines that run lengthwise, with the center ridge being slightly higher and larger than the other two. Both outer ridges often have small rounded serrations.

    Rose Comb

    Courtesy Of: Mama Hen Chris
    Gretchen, Gold Laced Wyandotte
    2.5 Years, Hen

    Breeds: Ancona, Belgian D’Anver, Dominique, Dorking, Hamburg, Minorca, Rosecomb, Seabright and Wyandotte

    The rose comb is a long, broad, nearly flat comb that should have a convex shape to the top. The blade should form a well-tapered spike at the back and protrude well over the back of the skull. In certain breeds, such as the Hamburg, the spike may curve upwards at the end; however, the shape can different significantly between breeds. Additionally, there may be small round protuberances covering the front and middle sections.

    Single Comb

    Photo Courtesy Of: BarnGoddess01
    Jackson, Blue Copper Marans
    6 Months, Cockerel

    Breeds: Ancona, Andalusion, Australorp, Barnevelder, Belgian D’Uccle, Campine, Catalana, Cochin, Delaware, Dorking, Dutch, Favorelles, Fayoumi, Holland, Java, Jersey Giant, Lakenvelder, Leghorn, New Hampshire, Marans, Minorca, Orpington, Plymouth Rock, Production Red, Rhode Island, Sussex, Turken and Welsummer

    The single comb is perhaps the most comb version seen today and is often depicted as the “classic” chicken comb. As shown in the photo to the left, it is a moderately thin piece of soft flesh that sits atop the chicken’s skull. A properly formed comb will be attached at the beak I na section called the front and extend up over the skull in the section called the middle. The rear section, or the blade, will extend backwards past the skull. The top portion of this comb several points or serrations that are small in the front and blade area, while they are very distinct in the middle section.

    A rooster’s comb will be larger and thicker than a hen’s. It will also stand proud and upright, just as the rooster does. As a hen grows older, her comb may become floppy and hang to the side. This is considered normal and is generally not an indication of a health concern, unless other criterion is present as well.

    Strawberry Comb * Pending Approval from Owner for Photo

    Photo Courtesy Of:
    The Birdmaker

    Breeds: Malay

    The strawberry comb is similar in style to the pea comb and cushion comb; however, it is distinct in its own category. The strawberry comb sits significantly forward of the skull, protruding over the top of the beak. Additionally, it is wider than both the cushion and pea combs. The texture of this comb resembles the hull of a strawberry, where the largest end covers the beak.

    V Comb * Pending Approval from Owner for Photo

    Photo Courtesy Of:
    2 Years, Cockerel

    Breeds: Appenzeller, Crevecoeur, Houdan, La Fleche, Polish, and Sultan

    Walnut Comb

    Courtesy Of: SilkiesForEver
    Murphy, Silkie
    7 Months, Cockerel

    Breeds: Orloff, Silkie, Yokohama

    Dubbing the Comb, Cropping the Wattles

    Dubbing is the process of cutting the comb off of a chicken, while cropping is the removal of the wattles. There are two primary reasons that you would dub or crop one: preventing frostbite and showing a bird. Frostbite will be covered in a later section.

    According to current standards, Modern or Old English Game cockerels must be dubbed and cropped within their first year after hatch in order to qualify for the shows. Under certain conditions, the earlobes may also be trimmed.

    According to Randy Stevens, of Backyard Poultry Magazine, dubbing should be done once the cockerel has reached breeding age, approximately six to eight months old. To keep bleeding to a minimum, he recommends that the procedure be completed during the evening and in the last three days of the lunar cycle, just prior to the new moon. Ideally, it is also a good idea to avoid doing this during hot periods, where the blood has thinned and is flowing well through the comb in an effort to cool the cockerel.

    Before Dubbing

    After Dubbing

    Courtesy Of: 420Rooster
    American Game Cockerel
    Dangers Disease and Illnesses

    There is an assortment of problems can affect the combs and wattles of poultry. In general, one of three things occurs: avian pox, frostbite or pecking injuries. All three are handled fairly easily and don’t require a lot of effort to resolve.
    Avian Pox

    This disease is a relatively slow spreading avipoxvirus that occurs in birds. There are three known types of the virus: canary pox, fowl pox and pigeon pox. It is seen in two forms, either cutaneous (dry) or diphtheritic (wet). The cutaneous form is indicated by the formation of small lesions on the unfeathered parts of the body, usually the combs and wattles. Initially, these lesions are small pink or white blisters that contain pockets of the virus, as seen on the comb and earlobes of the chicken to the right. As it multiples, the lesions will grow and ultimately burst, spreading the virus to the contaminated areas. When these nodules progress, the will slowly turn to a brown or black coloring, seen in the blade of this chicken’s comb. The diphtheritic form affects the lungs, mouth, throat and trachea. Small yellow or white, moist necrotic areas develop and often restricts breathing, resulting in death by suffocation.

    Avian pox can be prevented by administering a vaccination developed from a modified live virus, commonly available from local feed shops or aviary veterinarians. Treatment of infected birds can be accomplished by removing the lesions and ensuring the wounds are treated to prevent infection. Iodine washes are the most common form of topical treatment.

    Additional information can be found from the Michigan Department of Natural Health.

    Courtesy Of: HaysHays97

    In cold, wet and windy regions, you are bound to find a chicken with frostbite on their caruncles and feet at some point. It is important to understand the causes and treatments. It occurs when temperatures are extremely low, generally in the sub-freezing range. However, they can also occur when the correct combination of high winds, low temperatures and/or wet conditions exist. It is important to have a dry coop and proper draft control during winter for this very reason. There must be proper ventilation, however, or the environment will host a variety of parasites.

    Frostbite usually affects the combs and wattles of poultry first; however, the toes are also very susceptible to this injury. Moist, cold ground exacerbates the situation. As seen in the photo above, when frostbite occurs, the tips of the affected part turns black and dies. Eventually, the damaged part will usually fall off. Unless an infection is setting in, however, do not trim the dead area. It may be providing protection for the remaining sections of the comb or wattles.

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Recent User Reviews

  1. ronott1
    "Excellant article"
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Aug 31, 2018
    Good information on Combs!
  2. N F C
    "Very Informative"
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Jul 30, 2018
    Excellent article and good photos showing the differences in combs.
  3. The Farmers' Daughter
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Jul 23, 2018
    Very well written and informative. The reasons and types of combs are well explained, except for the last two. I think a couple of pictures are missing as well.


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  1. goose chick
    I can't believe you have to dub or crop anything on these poor babies. Just like cutting off poor dogs ears & tails so sad.
      hempsteadjb and Susan Hampshire like this.
  2. klyn
    Great Article! I have been looking for more information about different kinds of combs. Thanks!
  3. Animals970
    Great Article!
  4. Joshua G
    @ Terry S, They say petroleum jelly is great for frostbite.
    Great post!
  5. Terry S
    Can you cover the combs and wattles with Bag Balm to prevent frost bite?
  6. BYC Project Manager
    Your article is featured on the homepage carousel! Thanks for submitting it to the BYC Article Contest. Congratulations!
  7. Demosthine
    ChickenFan4Life, as far as I've been able to determine, the carnation comb is not recognized by the American Poultry Association, so it was not listed. It is considered a genetic defect caused by cross-breeding. Similarly, the silkie comb may be referenced in other sites, but it is not APA approved, either.
  8. Chickenfan4life
    Great article, but you need to add just one thing: a carnation comb! XD But it's awesome!
  9. arcy liger
    i have a aseel hen with a comb like a single comb but no zigzag pointy things and folded like a tissue paper
    you can see pics in my profile the brown aseel
  10. AmberRex
    Looks really good so far, and very informative (thumbs up sign that doesn't exist on the member pages comments but you know the one I mean)

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