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J Exp Biol. 1995;198(Pt 4):1029-33.

The Young's modulus of feather keratin


The flexural stiffness of the rachis varies along the length of a primary feather, between primaries and between species; the possible contribution of variations in the longitudinal Young's modulus of feather keratin to this was assessed. Tensile tests on compact keratin from eight species of birds belonging to different orders showed similar moduli (mean E=2.50 GPa) in all species apart from the grey heron (E=1.78 GPa). No significant differences were seen in the modulus of keratin from primaries 7­10 in any species. There was a systematic increase in the modulus distally along the length of the rachis from swan primary feathers. Dynamic bending tests on swan primary feather rachises also showed that the longitudinal elastic modulus increases with increasing frequency of bending over the range 0.1­10 Hz and decreases monotonically with increasing temperature over the range -50 to +50 °C. The position-, frequency- and temperature-dependent variations in the modulus are, however, relatively small. It is concluded that, in the species studied, the flexural stiffness of the whole rachis is principally controlled by its cross-sectional morphology rather than by the material properties of the keratin.

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