A nanostructural basis for gloss of avian eggshells

Branislav Igic, Daphne Fecheyr-Lippens, Ming Xiao, Andrew Chan, Daniel Hanley, Patricia R.L. Brennan, Tomas Grim, Geoffrey I.N. Waterhouse, Mark E. Hauber, Matthew D. Shawkey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The role of pigments in generating the colour and maculation of birds' eggs is well characterized, whereas the effects of the eggshell's nanostructure on the visual appearance of eggs are little studied. Here, we examined the nanostructural basis of glossiness of tinamou eggs. Tinamou eggs are well known for their glossy appearance, but the underlying mechanism responsible for this optical effect is unclear. Using experimental manipulations in conjunction with angle-resolved spectrophotometry, scanning electron microscopy, atomic force microscopy and chemical analyses, we show that the glossy appearance of tinamou eggshells is produced by an extremely smooth cuticle, composed of calcium carbonate, calcium phosphate and, potentially, organic compounds such as proteins and pigments. Optical calculations corroborate surface smoothness as the main factor producing gloss. Furthermore, we reveal the presence of weak iridescence on eggs of the great tinamou (Tinamus major), an optical effect never previously documented for bird eggs. These data highlight the need for further exploration into the nanostructural mechanisms for the production of colour and other optical effects of avian eggshells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20141210
JournalJournal of the Royal Society Interface
Issue number103
StatePublished - Feb 6 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Eggshell
  • Gloss
  • Iridescence
  • Nanostructure
  • Structural colour
  • Tinamou

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biophysics
  • Bioengineering
  • Biomaterials
  • Biochemistry
  • Biomedical Engineering


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