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J Exp Biol. 2018 Oct 5;221(Pt 19). pii: jeb178988. doi: 10.1242/jeb.178988.

How the egg rolls: a morphological analysis of avian egg shape in the context of displacement dynamics.

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Animal Behavior and Conservation Program, Department of Psychology, Hunter College, City University of New York, New York, NY 10065, USA
Department of Animal Biology, School of Integrative Biology, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, IL 61801, USA.


Very little is known about how morphology affects the motion, spatial stability and resulting viability of avian eggs. The limited existing research focuses on the uniquely pyriform egg shapes found in the Alcidae bird family. This unusual shell shape was originally thought to suppress displacement and prevent egg loss on the cliffside nesting habitat of the Uria genus. Unfortunately, these early studies never isolated or quantified the specific morphological features (elongation, asymmetry and conicality) of these pyriform eggs, which limits their applicability to other taxa and has hampered a robust proof of concept. We isolated each feature as an enumerated variable, produced model 3D printed eggs with incremental expressions of a single variable and then with all three features co-varying simultaneously. Recorded motion (egg-rolling) trials were conducted to test the individual and combined effects of each morphological characteristic on displacement over a range of inclines representative of the conditions found in natural habitats. Increasing elongation and asymmetry significantly increased displacement, whereas increased conicality decreased displacement in the single-variable egg models. In the multivariable egg models, only conicality consistently suppressed displacement, while lower levels of asymmetry significantly increased displacement. Our findings broadly support previous studies' assertions of the adaptive value of the pyriform eggs while also providing methodology and comparative data for future analyses of the interactions between nesting habitat, behavior and egg shape, beyond the confines of a handful of focal species.


Alcidea; Avian eggs; Morphology; Movement; Rolling; Uria aalge

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Conflict of interest statement

Competing interestsThe authors declare no competing or financial interests.

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