Brood parasite and host eggshells undergo similar levels of decalcification during embryonic development

B. Igic, M. E. Hauber, C. Moskát, T. Grim, M. D. Shawkey, P. Procházka, M. Honza

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Common cuckoos Cuculus canorus are obligate brood parasites that lay their eggs in the nests of other (host) species. To increase the likelihood of successful parasitism, common cuckoos lay eggs with thicker and structurally stronger eggshells than those of their hosts and non-parasitic relatives. Although hatching from thicker eggshells requires greater effort and may impose physiological costs on cuckoo embryos during hatching, it is unclear whether cuckoo eggshells are indeed thicker at the time of hatching. This is because avian embryos decalcify the innermost eggshell layer (mammillary layer) for organ development during embryogenesis, reducing eggshell thickness and making hatching easier. Therefore, common cuckoo eggshells may undergo a greater degree of decalcification during embryonic development to facilitate hatching from an initially thicker shelled egg. We used scanning electron microscopy to test this hypothesis by comparing the thickness and degree of decalcification of eggshells collected either before incubation or after hatching. We found that cuckoo eggshells undergo similar degrees of decalcification during embryonic development as the thinner eggshells of a host that lays similarly sized eggs, the great reed warbler Acrocephalus arundinaceus. Cuckoo eggshells hence remain thicker than eggshells of this host throughout embryogenesis, supporting the predicted trade-off between the benefits of laying puncture-resistant eggs and the physiological costs associated with hatching from thick shelled eggs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)165-173
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Zoology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Acrocephalus arundinaceus
  • Cuculus canorus
  • brood parasitism
  • common cuckoo
  • decalcification
  • eggshell thickness
  • embryonic development
  • scanning electron microscopy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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