Birds of a feather

Published: Monday 15 February 1993

-- KAREN Perremans and her colleagues at the Zoological Institute at Leuven in Belgium have discovered that birds have unique "featherprints," which may make it possible to identify bird species by analysing a small piece of feather (BBC Wildlife, Vol 10, No 12).

Feathers from more than 200 species of birds were examined with a scanning electron microscope at magnifications of upto 20,000 times. The studies revealed great diversity of intricate markings and surface structures such as tiny projections or "papillae," fibres and cell walls. The structures by themselves are of no great significance but the patterns they occur in are specific to a species. This suggests the prospect of identifying a unique featherprint for a species.

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