A centuries-old mystery behind the shape of a bird’s egg has been solved by scientists at the University of Sheffield as part of one of the longest-running scientific studies of its kind.
The study, led by Professor Tim Birkhead from the University’s Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, has discovered the reason why guillemot eggs have such a peculiar shape – a mystery that has been puzzling biologists for hundreds of years.
Guillemots lay and incubate their single egg on bare cliff ledges close to the sea, which led scientists and nature enthusiasts to believe that the egg’s pointed shape had evolved to help it roll in an arc – thus keeping it from the cliff edge should it become dislodged
However, Professor Birkhead, who has been studying the behaviour of guillemots, puffins and razorbills on Skomer Island in Wales for almost 50 years, has discovered that the egg’s shape has evolved in order to keep the egg in place and prevent it from rolling away in the first place.
“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature -- the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.” ― Rachel Carson, Silent Spring