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Explore Scientific Smart Microscope Slide: Fowl Feather (English)

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Explore Scientific Smart Microscope Slide: Fowl Feather
Feathers of birds are beautiful to look at but also have an incredible microstructure. Protein beta-keratin is the substance of all feathers and all have a branching structure, but the variety of shapes and colors are very diverse. Through the microscope you can see bundles of barbules and coloration unique to each segment. These barbules interlock to create the smooth and flexible surfaces that makes flight possible while protecting the bird from the elements. Here are the main parts of a feather:
  • Calamus: The hollow barbless central base stem of the feather.
  • Rachis: The central spine of the feather that branches into barbs.
  • Barbs: The barbs have the "feathery" barbules.
  • Barbule: The barbules have small hooks that interlock with nearby barbules.

Fluffy feathers such as those used in down feather pillows look fluffy because they have a loosely arranged microstructure which is described as "plumulaceous". Plumulaceous feathers keep the bird's body warm. The flat, stiff feathers are called "pennaceous" feathers. The pennaceous feathers protect the bird from water and the elements, and allow the bird to fly. 

The shapes and colors of bird feathers are very diverse which helps protect the birds and give visual communication cues to one another to warn of predators and for mating.  


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