National Avian Research Facility
National Avian Research Facility

Japanese Quail

Coturnix japonica


Japanese quail (Coturnix japonica) are a popular domestic poultry species raised for meat and eggs in Asia and Europe. Quail have been used for genetics research since 19401, and are an increasingly important model species for developmental biology and biomedical research2,3, including the fields of neuroscience, reproductive biology and immunology.

Quail and chicks
Japanese quail with chicks.


Japanese quail have a rapid growth rate and a short life cycle, becoming sexually mature only 8 weeks after hatch. Due to this and their rapid and reliable reproductive response to changes in photoperiod, Japanese quail have been used for decades as a model species to elucidate the molecular and neurological mechanisms that regulate avian seasonal biology4–7. Japanese quail have also been used to study the genetic and neuroendocrine mechanisms underlying reproductive behaviours, including maternal care and sexual behaviours8,9. In addition, Japanese quail are a useful species to investigate the effects of early life stress10, the genetic basis of emotional reactivity and social reinstatement11–13, and have improved our understanding of the control and spread of infectious diseases14,15, including avian influenza16–18.


The quail embryo is a popular model for developmental biology as it is robust to manipulation, facilitating fate mapping studies19 and dynamic imaging of embryogenesis20. Quail have been used as a model for stem cell differentiation2, and a culture system that mimics the development of hematopoietic stem cells has been developed in quail21.

Recently, a high-quality annotated genome of the Japanese quail has been assembled and annotated by researchers at the Roslin Institute3.



  1. Shimakura, K. Notes on the genetics of the Japanese quail. I. simple, Mendelian, autosomal, recessive character, “brown-splashed white,” of plumage. Japanese J. Genet. 16, 106–112 (1940).
  2. Huss, D., Poynter, G. & Lansford, R. Japanese quail (Coturnix japonica) as a laboratory animal model. Lab Animal 37, 513–519 (2008).
  3. Morris, K. M. et al. The quail genome: Insights into social behaviour, seasonal biology and infectious disease response. BMC Biol. 18, 1–18 (2020).
  4. Robinson, J. E. & Follett, B. K. Photoperiodism in Japanese quail: the termination of seasonal breeding by photorefractoriness. Proc. R. Soc. London. Ser. B. Biol. Sci. 215, 95–116 (1982).
  5. Nakane, Y. & Yoshimura, T. Deep brain photoreceptors and a seasonal signal transduction cascade in birds. Cell Tissue Res. 342, 341–344 (2010).
  6. Nakane, Y. & Yoshimura, T. Universality and diversity in the signal transduction pathway that regulates seasonal reproduction in vertebrates. Front. Neurosci. 8, 115 (2014).
  7. Meddle, S. L. & Follett, B. K. Photoperiodically driven changes in Fos expression within the basal tuberal hypothalamus and median eminence of Japanese quail. J. Neurosci. 17, 8909–8918 (1997).
  8. Adkins-Regan, E. Hormones and sexual differentiation of avian social behavior. Developmental Neuroscience 31, 342–350 (2009).
  9. Ball, G. F. & Balthazart, J. Hormonal regulation of brain circuits mediating male sexual behavior in birds. Physiol. Behav. 83, 329–346 (2004).
  10. Marasco, V., Herzyk, P., Robinson, J. & Spencer, K. A. Pre- and Post-Natal Stress Programming: Developmental Exposure to Glucocorticoids Causes Long-Term Brain-Region Specific Changes to Transcriptome in the Precocial Japanese Quail. J. Neuroendocrinol. 28, (2016).
  11. Beaumont, C. et al. A genome scan with AFLPTM markers to detect fearfulness-related QTLs in Japanese quail. Anim. Genet. 36, 401–407 (2005).
  12. Mills, A. D. & Faure, J. M. Divergent selection for duration of tonic immobility and social reinstatement behavior in Japanese quail (Coturnix coturnix japonica) chicks. J. Comp. Psychol. 105, 25–38 (1991).
  13. Recoquillay, J. et al. Evidence of phenotypic and genetic relationships between sociality, emotional reactivity and production traits in Japanese quail. PLoS One 8, e82157 (2013).
  14. Waligora-Dupriet, A. J. et al. Short-chain fatty acids and polyamines in the pathogenesis of necrotizing enterocolitis: Kinetics aspects in gnotobiotic quails. Anaerobe 15, 138–144 (2009).
  15. Watanabe, S. & Nagayama, F. Studies on the Serum IgG Level in Japanese Quail. Japanese Poult. Sci. 16, 59–64 (1979).
  16. Makarova, N. V., Ozaki, H., Kida, H., Webster, R. G. & Perez, D. R. Replication and transmission of influenza viruses in Japanese quail. Virology 310, 8–15 (2003).
  17. Wan, H. & Perez, D. R. Quail carry sialic acid receptors compatible with binding of avian and human influenza viruses. Virology 346, 278–286 (2006).
  18. Perez, D. R. et al. Role of quail in the interspecies transmission of H9 influenza A viruses: molecular changes on HA that correspond to adaptation from ducks to chickens. J. Virol. 77, 3148–3156 (2003).
  19. Balaban, E., Teillet, M. A. & Douarin, N. L. E. Application of the quail-chick chimera system to the study of brain development and behavior. Science (80-. ). 241, 1339–1342 (1988).
  20. Bénazéraf, B. et al. Multi-scale quantification of tissue behavior during amniote embryo axis elongation. (2017). doi:10.1242/dev.150557
  21. Yvernogeau, L. et al. An in vitro model of hemogenic endothelium commitment and hematopoietic production. Dev. 143, 1302–1312 (2016).