How keratin cortex thickness affects iridescent feather colours

Deok Jin Jeon, Seungmuk Ji, Eunok Lee, Jihun Kang, Jiyeong Kim, Liliana D'Alba, Marie Manceau, Matthew D. Shawkey, Jong Souk Yeo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The bright, saturated iridescent colours of feathers are commonly produced by single and multi-layers of nanostructured melanin granules (melanosomes), air and keratin matrices, surrounded by an outer keratin cortex of varying thicknesses. The role of the keratin cortex in colour production remains unclear, despite its potential to act as a thin film or absorbing layer. We use electron microscopy, optical simulations and oxygen plasma-mediated experimental cortex removal to show that differences in keratin cortex thickness play a significant role in producing colours. The results indicate that keratin cortex thickness determines the position of the major reflectance peak (hue) from nanostructured melanosomes of common pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) feathers. Specifically, the common pheasant has appropriate keratin cortex thickness to produce blue and green structural colours. This finding identifies a general principle of structural colour production and sheds light on the processes that shaped the evolution of brilliant iridescent colours in the common pheasant.

Original languageEnglish
Article number220786
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2023 Jan 11

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Human Frontier Science Program (grant no. RGP0047/2019), Research Program through the National Institute of Ecology (grant no. NIE-basic research-2019-18) and National Research Foundation (NRF) grant funded by the Ministry of Education, under the Basic Science Research Program (grant no. NRF-2017R1D1A1B04033182). Acknowledgements

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Authors.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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