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12 December 2013 1:00 pm ,
Vol. 342 ,
The iconic 125-year-old Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton near San Jose, California, is facing the threat of closure...
Recent results from the Curiosity Mars rover have helped scientists formulate a plan for the next phase of its mission...
A new, remarkably powerful drug that cripples the hepatitis C virus (HCV) came to market last week, but it sells for $...
In pretoothbrush populations, gumlines would often be marred by a thick, visible crust of calcium phosphate, food...
Evolutionary biologists have long studied how the Mexican tetra, a drab fish that lives in rivers and creeks but has...
Victorian astronomers spent countless hours laboriously charting the positions of stars in the sky. Such sky mapping,...
In an ambitious project to study 1000 years of sickness and health, researchers are excavating the graveyard of the now...
Stefan Behnisch has won awards for designing science labs and other buildings that are smart, sustainable, and...
- 12 December 2013 1:00 pm , Vol. 342 , #6164
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ScienceShot: Flashed by a Duck
3 April 2012 7:05 pm
When mallards storm off, they really storm off, giving everyone a good look at their bright blue backsides as they swim away. Scientists have long struggled to explain how ducks like these (shown) produce such brilliant blues, greens, and bronzes, usually squeezed into patches on their wings. So researchers decided to take a closer look at duck plumage, observing feather filaments belonging to four species, including the mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), under an electron microscope. These curious birds, it turns out, owe their hues to their inner hexagons, the team reports online today in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface. Each of the ducks has a thin layer composed of hundreds of pigment-bearing structures—or melanosomes—lining the interiors of their feathers (inset). Light hitting these solid shapes, which stretch about 60 to 85 nanometers across, bounces away, producing highly saturated colors. But ducks, unlike other birds with similar structures, have six-sided, not square-shaped, melanosomes. These hexagons are versatile, too: With slight tweaks to the pattern, different duck species have been able to reflect visible light spanning most of the rainbow. So in any palette, the birds get their flashy exits.
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