Numida meleagris
Faraona - Gallina di Faraone
Gallina di Numidia

Caratteristiche cefaliche di alcuni appartenenti al genere Numida

Uccello dell’ordine dei Galliformi, famiglia Fasianidi, sottofamiglia Numidini che trae il nome della specie - meleagris – da Meleagro, eroe della mitologia greca, figlio di Eneo re di Calidone in Etolia e di Altea.

La sottofamiglia dei Numidini è composta, secondo Bernhard Grzimek, da cinque generi:

Phasidus: Phasidus niger – Faraona nera
Agelastes: Agelastes meleagrides – Agelaste
Guttera: Guttera plumifera e Guttera pucherani (Numida crestata)
Acryllium: Acryllium vulturinum – Numida vulturina
Numida: Numida meleagris – Gallina di Numidia o Gallina di Faraone

La Numida meleagris è stata suddivisa in diverse sottospecie che presentano l’elmo corneo di foggia assai diversa da una sottospecie all’altra. Grzimek elenca le seguenti: meleagris, sabyi, galeata, mitrata, major.

La nostra attuale faraona domestica sarebbe la forma d’allevamento della Numida meleagris galeata originaria dell’Africa occidentale, introdotta in America e in Europa dai Portoghesi all’epoca delle grandi scoperte geografiche.

Nell’antichità venne dapprima addomesticata solo la sottospecie marocchina – Numida meleagris sabyi, più tardi i Romani importarono in Europa anche la sottospecie dell’Africa nordorientale – Numida meleagris meleagris.

Descrizione della sottospecie da allevamento
Numida meleagris galeata

La sottospecie da allevamento della gallina di Faraone raggiunge una mole discreta - sino a 2 kg - ed è caratterizzata da testa e collo parzialmente nudi e ricoperti di pelle biancastra con alcune appendici cutanee. A livello della base del becco, che appare ricurvo, si osservano due bargigli rossi, più grandi e spesso attorcigliati nel maschio. Sul capo, al posto della cresta, si trova un astuccio corneo a forma di piccolo elmo sorretto da un processo osseo. Il corpo ha un profilo particolare ed è coperto da penne che presentano piccole e regolari macchie bianche di forma rotonda. Le zampe portano quattro dita; manca lo sperone.

La faraona è buona produttrice di carne che ha caratteristiche organolettiche peculiari. Limitata è invece la produzione di uova, del peso di 40-45 g. La femmina non è una buona covatrice. Lo sviluppo embrionale dura 27 giorni. I pulcini sono per breve tempo ricoperti di peluria, presto sostituita dalle penne giovanili. Non esiste un pronunciato dimorfismo sessuale; il maschio è più alto. La femmina appare, invece, tozza ma più pesante. Di quando in quando le faraone strepitano incessantemente: il grido più noto è un forte ciké-ciké-ciké.

Guinea Fowl
Roy Crawford in Poultry Breeding and Genetics
Elsevier, Amsterdam, 1990

All authors agree that the domestic guinea fowl was derived from the helmeted guinea fowl - Numida meleagris - of Africa. There were at least several independent domestications involving more than one subspecies. Present-day commercials stocks were probably all derived from the West African subspecies Numida meleagris galeata.

Wild Species

Classification. Belshaw (1985) has classified guinea fowl as order Galliformes, family Numididae, but Howard and Moore (1984) placed them in family Phasianidae and subfamily Numidinae. There are four genera (Agelastes, Guttera, Numida, Acryllium) comprising seven species. Genus Numida consists of a single polytypic species meleagris and 22 subspecies. Crowe (1985) has used a simpler classification of Numida meleagris involving nine well-marked subspecies which fall into three groupings:

West African - N. m. galeata and sabyi
East African
- N. m. meleagris and somaliensis
Central-South African - N. m. reichenowi, mitrata, marungensis, papillosa, coronata.

Description. Crowe (1985) described helmeted guinea fowl as opportunistic omnivores which inhabit open savannah and mixed savannah-bush. They are gregarious in the nonbreeding season, and monogamous as breeders. Females, especially in the breeding season, emit a characteristic two-note ‘buck-wheat’ call; males respond with a single note; both sexes have a rattling alarm call. Males are slightly larger than females but otherwise they exhibit almost no sexual dimorphism. Adult body size ranges from 0.7-2.0 kg (Long, 1981). The crown of the head carries a bony helmet with a horny sheath, and a pair of wattles hang from the gape. The nares are exposed, but in subspecies inhabiting hot dry areas the nares are surrounded with warts or cartilaginous bristles. Blood supply to the helmet, wattles, and cere may have importance in thermoregulation. The legs are long and powerful, lacking a spur. Plumage is monotypic. The ground color is black, with white spots intermeshed with white vermiculation; the spots on the outer margins of the secondaries are enlarged to form bars. Incubation time is 27-28 days, and clutch size varies from 6-10 eggs.

According to Crowe (1985), the West African galeata subspecies is small to medium-sized, and has a naked cere and rounded red wattles. N. m. sabyi is isolated in Morocco and differs very little from N. m. galeata. The East African meleagris and somaliensis subspecies are medium-sized, they have long bristles on the cere, and rounded blue wattles. The Central-South African group are relatively large birds. They have a naked cere (except for N. m. papillosa which has warts around the rim) and triangular-shaped blue wattles with red tips.

Distribution. Helmeted guinea fowl occur naturally throughout most of sub-Saharan Africa. There is an isolated northern population - N. m. sabyi - in Morocco (Crowe, 1985).

Many introductions have been made, some involving wild birds and some involving domestic stocks, and reintroductions have been made to areas of Africa where they had been exterminated (Long, 1981). The population in Yemen was probably introduced long ago; it is similar to the East African subspecies, for which some authors use the designation ptilorhyncha. The population in Malagasy was probably also introduced; it is classified as N. m. mitrata. Many oceanic islands have been stocked, not all of them successfully. Repeated introductions in New Zealand, Australia, and the United States met with general failure. There were introductions to most islands of the Caribbean, sometimes with wild birds and sometimes with domestic stocks which became feral. Some of these introductions were made in the 16th century and others arrived as live provisions on African slave ships. Populations flourished but many later became extinct because of hunting pressure and predation by the introduced mongoose. Viable wild or feral populations persist in Haiti, Dominican Republic, and Cuba.

Domestication And Early History

It is likely that many separate domestications have occurred in many separate places over time. According to Crowe (1985), wild populations of Numida meleagris readily become commensals of man, increasing in numbers and distribution because of the water, roosting, and feed resources resulting from human activity. However, unlike the situation for other poultry species, there is little indication in the historical record that guinea fowl were utilized other than as a human food resource. Belshaw (1985) makes only brief mention of their use in religion and folklore and of feathers in decoration. Eggs were probably of first importance and edible meat was secondary.

Information on history of domestication within Africa is scanty and, except for Egypt, depends on oral history. Belshaw (1985) stated that early domestication had occurred in two areas - in southern Sudan and in West Africa - but the dates are not certain. The process of domestication probably continues even now. Guinea fowl were depicted in a mural from the Egyptian fifth dynasty about 2400 B.C. but there is no evidence that the birds were domesticated then. They also appear in archaeological remains at Farnak dated from about 1900 B.C. and at Thebes (1570-1300 B.C.). It is supposed that they were artificially hatched and reared in large numbers concurrently with chickens during that period (Belshaw, 1985) but evidence is lacking; chickens are known to have been in Egypt at that time, but they were absent from the archaeological record in subsequent centuries, not appearing again until about 600 B.C. under Greek and Persian influence.

Guinea fowl were well-known to the Greeks and Romans in classical times. They were mentioned by Ovid, Aristotle, Pliny, Varro, and Columella. According to Zeuner (1963), the Greeks called the bird melanargis (black-silver) which was corrupted to meleagris and became associated with Greek mythology. Moubray (1854) related that story: “... the Meleagrides, the sisters of Meleager ... who was cruelly put to death, bewailing the death of their unfortunate brother, were metamorphosed into Guinea-fowls, the shower of tears they shed bedecking their otherwise sable plumage with white spots ...“. Wood-Gush (1985) indicated that the Moroccan subspecies N. m. sabyi was kept as a sacred bird on an Aegean island in the fourth century B.C. The Romans later knew this bird as the Numidian fowl. They also had birds of the East African subspecies which they called Meleagris and which they preferred. Both terms were eventually utilized by Linnaeus in formal naming of the genus and species. Guinea fowl were highly regarded as a food item by the Romans who must have distributed them throughout the Roman Empire. Zeuner (1963) mentioned bones of guinea fowl discovered in a Roman camp in the Taunus Mountains of West Germany, and Belshaw (1985) refers to a leg bone carrying a metal ring found in ruins of the Roman town of Silchester in England.

With decline of the Roman Empire, guinea fowl seem to have disappeared from Europe leaving almost no trace in the historical record. Mongin and Plouzeau (1984) refer to possible exceptions. They may have persisted in Greece and Italy, since Wood-Gush (1985) has noted a reference to the keeping of guinea fowl in Athens during the tenth century.

The Portugese of the late 16th century are generally credited with rediscovering guinea fowl on the west coast of Africa, from where the bird acquired its common name. The term poule de Guinée may have been used first in 1555 by Belon (Mongin and Plouzeau, 1984). The Portuguese took these guinea fowl to Europe, to the Americas, and elsewhere. Diffusion through Europe was probably concurrent or perhaps slightly in advance of turkey introductions, resulting in unfortunate confusion of names and identity of the two species which persists in their scientific nomenclature.

Nearly all modern guinea fowl are likely to have been derived from Portuguese introduction of the West African subspecies Numida meleagris galeata. There are indications that new commercial hybrids may involve blends of several subspecies (Belshaw, 1985) but documentation in the technical literature is lacking. Domestic birds in Malagasy and those introduced from there to other localities may be domesticated Numida meleagris mitrata. Those of eastern Africa are likely to be domesticates of meleagris and somaliensis subspecies, and those of the Mediterranean area may still bear traces of both East and West African subspecies.


Gallina Affricana femina

acquarelli di Ulisse Aldrovandi

Gallina Affricana mas