Phaeomelanin project

Can parrots synthesize phaeomelanin in feathers? That is a question that is regularly asked among aviculturists and not seldom causes long discussions. Unfortunately, as we already mentioned several times, there is no correct answer on this question.

Till now, we have not heard of any scientific study that confirms the presence of pheomelanin in the feathers of parrots. There is one recent paper that mentions phaeomelanin in parrots:…/1365-2435.127….
The authors seem to assume that phaeomelanin is responsible for some plumage colours of parrots together with eumelanin, carotenoids and psittacofulvins, but they did not conduct any chemical analyses to confirm that (and we know now for sure that parrots only have psittacofulvins in their feathers and no carotenoids). They cite some studies that investigate the chemical nature of feather pigments, but among those cited studies, we cannot find any confirming the presence of phaeomelanin in parrot feathers.

In MUTAVI, we examined several mutations in Psittaciformes by cross sections and never found phaeomelanine in the feathers. We never said it is impossible, but till now there is no scientific evidence that parrots produce phaeomelanin for pigmentation. Some scholars think it has an evolutionary reason.

The best way to investigate this is by Raman spectroscopy. Raman spectroscopy is commonly used in chemistry to provide a structural fingerprint by which molecules can be identified. So a perfect method to identify phaeomelanin in feathers.

Since it never has been investigated, it is be a good point to test. We can not do it, but I contacted several researchers and we found a scientist who is willing to help us. Hopefully this research can give us a clear answer.

Together with:

  • Daniel Nuijten (Nature preservation – Belgium)
  • Bert Van Gils (Chairman BVP Belgian Parrot Society – Master of Bioscience Engineering – Belgium)
  • Nico Rosseel (Aviculturist – Belgium)
  • Jef Kenis (Aviculturist – Belgium)
  • Eric Gennissen (Aviculturist – The Netherlands)
  • Heinz Schnitker (Taxonomist – Germany)
  • Glenn Ooms (Editor BVA-International – Belgium)

we selected 30 species / sub species (from the three super families in Psittaciformes: Psittacoidea, Cacatuoidea, and Strigopoidea) and a few colourmutations in which we have feathers with colours that are POSSIBLE candidates to be produced by pheomelanin (dull orange or chestnut).  These feathers will be examined in the near future.

Thanks to all who provided us feathers of these species.

To be continued…


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