Unique shell design gives guillemot eggs an edge for living on the edge

Jul 04, 2013
The guillemot eggshells have hierarchical cone nano-structures that enable them to survive precarious habitats, on exposed cliffs with no nest. Credit: Steven Portugal and Golo Maurer

Unique nano-structures on guillemot eggshells eggs enable them to survive precarious habitats, on exposed cliffs with no nest. A new study, to be presented at the Society for Experimental Biology meeting in Valencia on July 5, shows how these structures act as self-cleaning guardians of the eggs, preventing them from falling and protecting them from salt and guano exposure.

The team of researchers headed Dr Steven Portugal (Royal Veterinary College, University of London) discovered the nano-scale cone-like structures.

Dr Steven Portugal explained: "This work was started by accident. A water spillage over an egg collection revealed how differently water droplets acted on the guillemot eggshells in comparison to other species. The stayed as a sphere on the eggs, typically an indication of a ."

The researchers identified that these structures are unique to guillemot eggshells in a comparative study of over 400 species in total, including those nesting in similar environments, and those closely related to the guillemots.

They performed engineering tests on the eggshells and found that those of the guillemot have several unique proprieties due to these nano -structures: higher water (which means they were more hydrophobic), rougher surface (which helps prevent the egg from falling off the cliff or the parents feet) and higher rate of gaseous exchange (which helps them cope with the high salt content from the sea spray).

The structure of the guillemot eggshells is unique even among closely related species such as puffins. Credit: Steven Portugal and James Bowen

Other analogous hydrophobic nano-structures have been identified in the Lotus Leaf, and have been mimicked in industry. The researchers expect this finding will also have important uses in the emerging field of .

Guillemots are famous for the egg shapes -- when knocked or rocked, they go around in a perfect circle on their own axis, so they don't roll off the cliff. Credit: Steven Portugal

Guillemots are famous for the egg shapes. They nest on exposed cliff faces (no nests), in colonies which can consist of hundreds of thousands of individuals, really packed in. Their eggs are shaped so that when knocked or rocked, they go around in a perfect circle on their own axis, so they don't roll off the cliff.

Explore further: Livingstone beetle specimens found after 150 years

More information: This work will be presented at 14:40 on Friday 5th July 2013.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Improved egg enabled insects to conquer the land

Jun 26, 2013

Insects are so successful on the land because insect eggs are protected from desiccation. Thanks to an extraembryonic membrane in the egg, the serosa, insects could successfully switch from life in the water ...

Salt causes chalk cliffs to collapse

Apr 19, 2013

Salt plays a greater role in undermining chalk cliffs than previously thought, say scientists. Until recently, if a chalk cliff collapsed it was blamed on waves eroding its base, or the chalk weakening as ...

A new anti-frost and anti-fog coating for glass

Feb 27, 2013

In an advance toward glass that remains clear under the harshest of conditions, scientists are reporting development of a new water-repellant coating that resists both fogging and frosting. Their research ...

Birds find ways to avoid raising cuckoos' young

Apr 08, 2013

Some species of birds reproduce not by rearing their own young, but by handing that task on to adults of other species. Known as brood parasitism, this habit has been most thoroughly researched in the cuckoo. ...

Recommended for you

Research helps steer mites from bees

Sep 19, 2014

A Simon Fraser University chemistry professor has found a way to sway mites from their damaging effects on bees that care and feed the all-important queen bee.

User comments : 0