Feathers consist of thousands of flat branches. With electron magnification, thin plate-like layers are seen. It’s the pattern of these layers that leads to an interference phenomena—the iridescence. We see this lustrous glimmer with peacock feathers and feathers of other birds. Butterfly wings and other insects have iridescence too.
Scientists have detected miniscule “melansomes” in feathers, the color-bearing organelles. With this advancement, they are now able to decipher the colors of extinct birds as left behind in their fossils. A recent re-study of some 47 million-year-old fossil specimens indicated a sheen was present, as we see on starlings today.
Also of interest: It is thought that feathers did not originate as flight structures or as insulation. Feathers came before wings. Paleontologists thus theorize that plumage arose for color display purposes.
Incidentally, peafowls (species name) are native to India, Burma, Java, Ceylon, Malaya and Congo. They are closely related to pheasants, difference being their plumage. Peafowls can live a long life of 40 – 50 years. It is the male that is called a peacock and the female a peahen. And those under the age of one—peachicks. Thank you United Peafowl Association.
Photo source: Gordana Adamovic-Mladenovic–Creative Commons Attribution License
Nancy R. Peck