Short Communication


, Volume 20, Issue 1, pp 43-48

First online:

Detecting pigments from colourful eggshells of extinct birds

  • Branislav IgicAffiliated withSchool of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland
  • , David R. GreenwoodAffiliated withSchool of Biological Sciences, University of AucklandPlant and Food Research, University of Auckland
  • , David J. PalmerAffiliated withSchool of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland
  • , Phillip CasseyAffiliated withSchool of Biosciences, University of Birmingham
  • , Brian J. GillAffiliated withAuckland War Memorial Museum
  • , Tomas GrimAffiliated withDepartment of Zoology and Laboratory of Ornithology, Palacky University
  • , Patricia L. R. BrennanAffiliated withDepartment of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Peabody Museum, Yale University
  • , Suzanne M. BassettAffiliated withDepartment of Zoology, University of Otago
  • , Phil F. BattleyAffiliated withSchool of Biological Sciences, University of AucklandEcology Group, Massey University
    • , Mark E. HauberAffiliated withSchool of Biological Sciences, University of AucklandDepartment of Psychology, Hunter College, CUNY Email author 

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The known chemical basis of diverse avian eggshell coloration is generated by the same two classes of tetrapyrrole pigments in most living birds. We aimed to extend the evolutionary scope of these patterns by detecting pigments from extinct birds’ eggs. In our samples biliverdin was successfully extracted from subfossil shell fragments of the blue-green egg-laying upland moa Megalapteryx didinus, while protoporphyrin was extracted from the beige eggs of two other extinct moa species. Our data on pigment detection from eggshells of other extant paleognath birds, together with published information on other modern lineages, confirm tetrapyrroles as ubiquitous and conserved pigments contributing to diverse eggshell colours throughout avian evolution.


Egg matrix Pigmentation Radiation Ratite