The shape of avian eggs: Assessment of a novel metric for quantifying eggshell conicality

Ian R. Hays, Iva Ljubicic, Mark E. Hauber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Studying the avian egg, its shape, and other aspects of its morphology, has recently undergone a renaissance. Yet most studies rely solely on 2, albeit multicomponent, metrics for the quantification of egg shape: elongation and asymmetry. The difficulty of quantifying an additional trait, the curvature, of an eggshell has yielded many attempts, including several with complex equations or spatial modeling techniques based on digitized images. Yet most of these approaches have lacked an independent single-variable metric, hampering comparative studies especially. We propose a metric for one common quality of egg shape, conicality, which is notably variable across different species' calcareous shells, including shorebirds and non-avian theropods. This metric utilizes multiple measurements of the slope along an egg's profile to produce a distribution of angular measurements, which can be analyzed with a kurtosis value. We tested this metric with sets of computer-generated and 3-dimensional-printed egg forms, where elongation, the percentage of conicality, and the relative curvature of the shell profile were systematically manipulated. For applicability to natural eggs and their diversity across taxa, the kurtosis value was used to quantify the gradient of conicality across a focal avian family, Alcidae, where the extreme ranges of kurtosis values successfully identified eggs qualitatively described as most conical in previous studies. Given the significance of egg morphology and profile curvature to eggshells' structural integrity, surface area-to-volume ratio, mobility/stability, nesting behavior, embryonic development, and individual recognition, our proposed measure of conicality could prove a useful variable to the study of avian and non-avian eggproducing species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 1 2020


  • Alcidae
  • Conicality
  • Egg shape
  • Kurtosis
  • Morphology
  • Pyriform
  • Uria aalge

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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