, Volume 20, Issue 1, pp 43–48

Detecting pigments from colourful eggshells of extinct birds


  • Branislav Igic
    • School of Biological SciencesUniversity of Auckland
  • David R. Greenwood
    • School of Biological SciencesUniversity of Auckland
    • Plant and Food ResearchUniversity of Auckland
  • David J. Palmer
    • School of Biological SciencesUniversity of Auckland
  • Phillip Cassey
    • School of BiosciencesUniversity of Birmingham
  • Brian J. Gill
    • Auckland War Memorial Museum
  • Tomas Grim
    • Department of Zoology and Laboratory of OrnithologyPalacky University
  • Patricia L. R. Brennan
    • Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Peabody MuseumYale University
  • Suzanne M. Bassett
    • Department of ZoologyUniversity of Otago
  • Phil F. Battley
    • School of Biological SciencesUniversity of Auckland
    • Ecology GroupMassey University
    • School of Biological SciencesUniversity of Auckland
    • Department of Psychology, Hunter CollegeCUNY
Short Communication

DOI: 10.1007/s00049-009-0038-2

Cite this article as:
Igic, B., Greenwood, D.R., Palmer, D.J. et al. Chemoecology (2010) 20: 43. doi:10.1007/s00049-009-0038-2


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 matrixPigmentationRadiationRatite

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© Birkhäuser Verlag, Basel/Switzerland 2009