William Atkins didn't know if his experiment would work. Now he has Jeremy.
After 14-year-old William Atkins had a conversation with his family about whether or not supermarket eggs could hatch, given that they're supposed to be unfertilized, the British teenager decided to experiment. He ordered a ￡40 incubator off eBay and bought a half-dozen quail eggs. Those didn't hatch, so he bought six free-range duck eggs at a Waitrose supermarket.
Three days later, Atkins shone a light on the eggs and, much to his delight, spotted a heartbeat in one of them. Three weeks later the egg started to rock and, 28 days from the start of his experiment, a tiny wet duckling emerged. It was named Jeremy – or Jemima, if it turns out to be female.Atkins said he was "over the moon when it finally pecked its way out." The Independent quotes him:
"I love anything to do with wildlife so no one took much notice when I started incubating the egg. They were stunned that I hatched one though – especially mum, who is not sure about me keeping a duckling in my bedroom."
Apparently he'll be allowed to keep Jeremy until the duck is full-grown, at which point it will be moved to a nearby farm.
The story of Jeremy's unlikely birth, as delightful as it is, is a bit of a PR disaster for the egg industry, which does not want people to start thinking of their breakfast eggs as potential adorable chicks – or even as part of the female reproductive system.
The company that produced Jeremy's egg, Clarence Court, stated that the chances of such an event happening were "remarkably slim." It suspects that there was either a sexing error and a male chick was accidentally let into the flock of females (these are usually culled shortly after birth, which is another unappetizing fact) or that a wild drake got overly friendly with one of the free-range ducks while she was outside.
It went on to say that "fertilized eggs are harmless to eat, and without incubation would be totally indistinguishable from unfertilized eggs." Margaret Manchester, managing director of Durham Hens, pointed out to the Guardian that, until heat is applied to a fertilized egg, there is no embryo.
"She says a fertilised egg doesn’t taste any different and won’t harm you. Indeed, in the days when most eggs came from farms that kept cockerels, almost all eggs would have been fertilised. She says you can spot a fertilised egg by looking at the yolk: in place of a usual small white spot, you will see a ring."
Nevertheless, it does force people to think about where their food is coming from and what they're comfortable eating – and that is something we all need to do more of. In the meantime, check out this adorable video of Jeremy hatching, via the Independent.