Most ground nesters lay pigmented eggs, and egg pigmentation generally matches the environment. Pigmentation of eggs has evolved as a protective device against predation, but dark-pigmented eggs can be susceptible to overheating when exposed to solar radiation. The Ostrich (Struthio camelus) lays white eggs that are unattended for the first few weeks before incubation, and are quite visible to predators. To evaluate the effect of colour on the surface and core temperatures, we painted some Ostrich eggs dark brown or white, and left some unpainted (control), and exposed all of them directly to the sun during the day. The surface and core temperatures of brown eggs were significantly higher than those of the white-painted and control eggs. In addition, the core temperature of brown eggs exceeded 37.5°C, which is the temperature at which embryo mortality starts to increase. In a second experiment, we placed eggs (brown-painted and control) in various types of vegetation to study their visibility to an observer walking towards them. The white eggs were discovered from a significantly longer distance than the brown eggs, indicating that the predation risk may be much higher for white eggs. The results thus suggest that white eggs minimise overheating and allow the Ostrich to leave its eggs unattended before incubation starts, but they are more susceptible to predation.
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We thank the Wildlife Division of the Tanzania Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism (MNRT) and Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI) for research permits. Ragna K. Sortland kindly assisted in preparing the eggs and the experiments. We thank G. Mwakalebe, N. Masawe, J. Kabondo and O. Mwakabejela for excellent field assistance. Thanks are due to Odd Arne Indset for designing the temperature equipment. We also thank R. Binnis for correcting the English and two anonymous referees for constructive comments on the manuscript. The study was funded by the World Bank sponsored Lower Kihansi Environmental Management Project. The experiment complies with the current laws of the country in which they were performed.
Communicated by F. Bairlein.
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Magige, F.J., Moe, B. & Røskaft, E. The white colour of the Ostrich (Struthio camelus) egg is a trade-off between predation and overheating. J Ornithol 149, 323–328 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10336-008-0273-2