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Outdoors: Unhatched chicks

I have to wonder about the lost work of art that inspired the piece, “The Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks” in  Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.”

And this week, when eggs play an important role in many secular and religious holidays, I can’t help but marvel how in 21 days “chicks in their shells” develop from single cell embryos into dancing (and peeping) chickens.

As an embryo develops various body parts, to avoid being deformed, it dances about, frequently changing positions.

Several days before hatching, when it is just about developed and has almost completely filled the available space in the shell, the unhatched chick assumes a position which enables it to start swallowing the liquid in the egg.

This enlarges a pocket of air.

The embryo must begin breathing air, and in much the same way a human baby cries to get air into its lungs, the embryo bird peeps to help its tiny lungs function.

About this time, the eggshell, which has been a safe home, becomes a prison. The embryo develops an incredibly strong muscle in its neck and a funny little tooth right on the top of its beak.

Using its hatching muscle, the embryo pushes its egg tooth against the inside of the egg.

Push…..rest…and repeat… push...rest and repeat until finally, it makes the pip: that first little starlike crack in the egg shell.

The unhatched chick keeps enlarging the pip hole until the egg opens and the scraggly, wet and exhausted little bird emerges.

But very soon, the chick dries, and fully costumed in fluffy yellow feathers, it begins its dance through life beyond the egg.

"Outdoors with Coggin Heeringa" can be heard every Wednesday on Classical IPR.