The racket-tipped tail of the motmots is uniquely shaped and its formation has attracted much attention. Barbs that grow along the wire of the motmot’s two central tail feathers are weakly attached and shed soon after development. The cause of the weak attachment of these barbs is unclear. I induced feather growth by plucking the central tail feathers from seven turquoise-browed motmots Eumomota superciliosa and then collected the regrown feathers before the barbs along the wire had fully shed. I compared the barb-rachis junction (petiole of the ramus) along the distal flag (the racket-tip of the tail) where barbs are not shed, to the barb-rachis junction along the wire where barbs would later be shed. In these two regions, I examined the size and structure of the attachment of the barb to the rachis with a scanning electron microscope (SEM). I also used a light microscope to score the grayness of the proximal rami of these two regions to estimate the amount of melanized keratin. SEM imaging showed that the barbs are attached to the rachis with a larger supporting flange along the distal flag compared to along the wire. Images from a light microscope showed that the rami along the distal flag were black, whereas rami along the wire were translucent or gray. The lower gray-scale color score of the rami along the wire is likely due to reduced melanized keratin. These data suggest that that the barbs along the wire are weakly attached due to a combination of a reduced structural attachment and a lack of structurally enhancing melanin.
Document Object Identifier (DOI)
Murphy T. G. (2007). Lack of melanized keratin and barbs that fall off: How the racketed tail of the turquoise-browed motmot Eumomota superciliosa is formed. Journal of Avian Biology 38: 139-143.
Journal of Avian biology