Scattering of ultraviolet light by avian eggshells

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Eggshells are essential for the reproduction of birds since the optical properties of shells may have an impact on biological functions such as heating and UV protection, recognition by parents or camouflage. Whereas ultraviolet reflection by some bird eggshells has been recently described, its physical origin remains poorly understood. In this study, we identified a porous structure in eggshells. Using Mie scattering modelling, we found it was most likely responsible for reflectance peaks (intensities of ca. 20-50%) observed in the near-UV range. These peaks were observed by spectrophotometric measurements from eggshells of several breeds of hen, one breed of duck and one breed of quail. This optical response was interpreted in terms of the distinct visual perception of hens and humans: eggshells appearing achromatic for humans proved to be chromatic for hens. Fluorescence emission from these eggs was also characterised and attributed to the presence of protoporphyrin IX and biliverdin IXα in the shells. Electron microscopy observations revealed the presence of pores within the so-called calcified shell part (i.e., at depths between ca. 20 μm and ca. 240 μm from the eggshell's outer surface). Mercury intrusion porosimetry allowed us to quantify the pore size distribution. Simulations of the UV response of this porous structure using Mie scattering theory as well as an effective approach accounting for multiple scattering indicate that these pores are responsible for the backscattering peaks observed in the UV range, in the case of beige hen eggshells. Due to the similarities between the pore size distributions observed for beige hen eggshells and other investigated poultry eggshells, we expect Mie backscattering to be the origin of the UV response of the eggshells of many other bird species. This journal is

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)63-80
Number of pages18
JournalFaraday Discussions
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2020


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