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Image of the Day: Birds of a Feather

Despite containing similar chemical pigments, red and yellow parrot feathers display distinct hues.

Jul 10, 2018
Sukanya Charuchandra

ABOVE: A parrot feather
JONATHAN BARNSLEY, UNIVERSITY OF OTAGO, NEW ZEALAND

The red and yellow feathers of parrots aren’t really that different at the chemical level, despite their unmistakable hues. A study published in Royal Society Open Science on July 4 finds that the feathers’ chromophores, which are the light-absorbing portion of pigments, associate with each other to giving rise to red plumage. Without such interactions, chromophores give feathers their yellow appearance.

A parrot feather under a microscope
JONATHAN BARNSLEY, UNIVERSITY OF OTAGO, NEW ZEALAND

“Chromophore diversity can come about when molecules interact or communicate with their nearest neighbours to change how one another absorbs light,” coauthor Jonathan Barnsley, a doctoral student at the University of Otago in New Zealand, says in a statement

J.E. Barnsley et al., “Frequency dispersion reveals chromophore diversity and colour-tuning mechanism in parrot feathers,” Roy Soc Open Sci, doi:10.1098/rsos.172010, 2018.

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