Magnificent magpie colours by feathers with layers of hollow melanosomes

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    Abstract

    The blue secondary and purple-to-green tail feathers of magpies are structurally coloured owing to stacks of hollow, air-containing melanosomes embedded in the keratin matrix of the barbules. We investigated the spectral and spatial reflection characteristics of the feathers by applying (micro)spectrophotometry and imaging scatterometry. To interpret the spectral data, we performed optical modelling, applying the finite-difference time domain (FDTD) method as well as an effective media approach, treating the melanosome stacks as multi-layers with effective refractive indices dependent on the component media. The differently coloured magpie feathers are realised by adjusting the melanosome size, with the diameter of the melanosomes as well as their hollowness being the most sensitive parameters that influence the appearance of the feathers.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article numberUNSP jeb174656
    Number of pages10
    JournalThe Journal of Experimental Biology
    Volume221
    Issue numberPt 4
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 28-Feb-2018

    Keywords

    • CROW CORVUS-MACRORHYNCHOS
    • BUTTERFLY WING SCALES
    • IMAGING SCATTEROMETRY
    • STRUCTURAL COLORS
    • COLORATION
    • PIGMENTS
    • IRIDESCENCE
    • PLUMAGE
    • NANOSTRUCTURES
    • SYSTEMS

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