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What’s a Species and What’s a Subspecies?

subspeciesMy buddies went to Texas and got some Rio Grandes this past spring, and they’re saying those turkeys are a different species than our Easterns here at home. But are they really another species or just slightly different? — Archie Hoover, Titus, Ala.

North America is home to one species of wild turkey — Meleagris gallopavo. There are five subspecies: Meleagris gallopavo silvestris, or the Eastern turkey; Meleagris gallopavo osceola, or the Osceola, or Florida, turkey; Meleagris gallopavo intermedia, or the Rio Grande; Meleagris gallopavo merriami, or the Merriam’s; and Meleagris gallopavo mexicana, or the Gould’s. Easterns are the most common subspecies, inhabiting most of the eastern United States and portions of Canada. Osceolas are found in the Florida peninsula, roughly south of the Suwanee River. Rio Grandes inhabit much of Texas and parts of Oklahoma and Kansas, and have been introduced in other areas. Merriam’s, which are actually the descendants of feral turkeys, inhabit the prairies of South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana, as well as parts of the Rocky Mountains, the high mesa of New Mexico and portions of Nebraska. Gould’s inhabit the mountains of western Mexico and small portions of Arizona and New Mexico.

When your buddies referred to Rios as a species, they were mistaken. They have, however, collected another subspecies of wild turkey.

There is another species of wild turkey, but it doesn’t inhabit North America. It’s Meleagris ocellata, or the ocellated turkey. It lives primarily in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, Belize and Guatemala.

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