Proximate bases of silver color in anhinga (Anhinga anhinga) feathers.


Colors of living organisms are produced by selective light absorption from pigments and/or by light scattering from highly ordered nanostructures (i.e., structural color). While the physical bases of metallic colors of arthropods and fish are fairly well-known, those of birds are not. Here we examine structurally based silver color and its production in feathers of the waterbird species Anhinga. This achromatic color is distinguished from grey by high specular reflectance, from white by low diffuse reflectance, and from both by high gloss. Light and electron microscopy revealed three modifications of feathers likely leading to silver color. First, proximal barbules were highly elongated and contained glossy black color at their base and white color at their pennulum. Second, this glossy black portion contained a single outer layer of keratin weakly bounded by melanosomes. Finally, the white portion contained a disordered amorphous matrix of keratin and air. Optical analyzes suggest that these structures produce, respectively, glossy black color through thin-film interference and white color through incoherent light scattering. Silver color likely results from the combined reflectance of these adjacent structures. This represents a distinct mechanism for attaining silver colors that may have been partially derived through selection for display, thermoregulation or decreased hydrophobicity.

DOI: 10.1002/jmor.10993

Cite this paper

@article{Shawkey2011ProximateBO, title={Proximate bases of silver color in anhinga (Anhinga anhinga) feathers.}, author={Matthew D Shawkey and Rafael Maia and Liliana D'Alba}, journal={Journal of morphology}, year={2011}, volume={272 11}, pages={1399-407} }