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Beaks reflect UV light: emperor penguin


emperor penguin / Flickr Dana&.. / LicenseCC-by-nc-sa - Attribution Non-commercial Share Alike

The beaks of emperor penguins reflect UV light via a multilayer reflector photonic microstructure.

"Although the mouths and flanges of begging passerines have been reported to reflect in the ultraviolet (Hunt et al. 2003), this is the first time that the nature of the UV-reflecting microstructures has been characterized in beak tissue of any bird. The ultrastructure of the photonic microstructures found in the present study differs radically from that of those previously described in either bird feathers or skin. The regular multilayer membrane arrays found in the beak horn microstructures closely approximate to two dimensional crystal lattices, strongly suggesting that UV reflectance here is produced by interference between incident light and that reflected from successive folds in these microstructures (Prum & Torres 2003)." (Dresp 2005:312)

Transmission electron micrograph of the upper region of the beak horn of an emperor penguin, showing it to be packed with microstructures constituted of multilayer folded membrane stacks. Scale bar, 1.0 mm.

About the inspiring organism
Emperor Penguin
Aptenodytes forsteri G. R. Gray, 1844

Habitat(s): Marine Coastal/Supratidal, Marine Neritic, Marine Oceanic
Learn more at
Some organism data provided by: ITIS: The Integrated Taxonomic Information System
Organism/taxonomy data provided by:
Species 2000 & ITIS Catalogue of Life: 2008 Annual Checklist

Threat Categories LONG_LC IUCN Red List Status: Least Concern

Bioinspired products and application ideas

Application Ideas: UV light reflectors on windows to reduce bird kill. Capture and transfer of UV light for photo voltaic applications- with TiO2. Template and redirection for UV "curing." Storage of information on UV sensitive array.

Industrial Sector(s) interested in this strategy: Transportation, energy, manufacturing, electronics, information technology

Dresp, B; Jouventin, P; Langley, K. 2005. Ultraviolet reflecting photonic microstructures in the King Penguin beak. Biology Letters. 1(3): 310-313.
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