Birds are able to produce intensely-coloured plumage by manipulating the way light is reflected from their feathers
Scientists have discovered why old birds never go grey with age, why green tree frogs turn blue when dead and why a red sweater might in future be washed with white shirts without turning them pink.
It all comes down to the novel way that many birds are able to produce intensely-coloured plumage by manipulating the way light is reflected from their feathers.
A study of a single barb in a jay’s wing feather has revealed that it contains a network of sub-microscopic holes within a spongy matrix that accounts for the overall hue of the bird’s plumage, scientists said.
The research has shown that the colour of a feather barb can turn from white to blue purely as a result of the change in the size of the holes within the spongy filling – the first time that bird colouration has been explained in such minute detail.
The study can explain why the brightly coloured feathers of many birds do not fade in sunlight or go grey with age, unlike human hair which relies on the continuous production of the dark pigment melanin as each hair grows from its follicle.
The results of the study might also lead to the invention of new types of “structural” colours, which are not based on pigments, for commercial paints and dyes that never fade in sunlight or run in the wash, the researchers said.
“This discovery means that in the future…