Skip to content Skip to navigation

Article: Molecular and microstructural inventory of an isolated fossil bird feather from the Eocene Fur Formation of Denmark

Palaeontology Cover Image - Volume 60 Part 1
Publication: Palaeontology
Volume: 60
Part: 1
Publication Date: January 2017
Page(s): 73 90
Author(s): Johan A. Gren, Peter Sjövall, Mats E. Eriksson, Rene L. Sylvestersen, Federica Marone, Kajsa G. V. Sigfridsson Clauss, Gavin J. Taylor, Stefan Carlson, Per Uvdal, and Johan Lindgren
Addition Information

How to Cite

GREN, J.A., SJÖVALL, P., ERIKSSON, M.E., SYLVESTERSEN, R.L., MARONE, F., SIGFRIDSSON CLAUSS, K.G.V., TAYLOR, G.J., CARLSON, S., UVDAL, P., LINDGREN, J. 2017. Molecular and microstructural inventory of an isolated fossil bird feather from the Eocene Fur Formation of Denmark. Palaeontology, 60, 1, 73-90. DOI: 10.1111/pala.12271

Author Information

Publication History

  • Manuscript Accepted: 07 October 2016
  • Manuscript Received: 07 June 2016

Funded By

Royal Physiographic Society in Lund
Swedish Research Council. Grant Numbers: 2015‐05084, 642‐2014‐3773

Online Version Hosted By

Wiley Online Library (Free Access)
Get Article: Wiley Online Library [Free Access]


An isolated, yet virtually intact contour feather (FUM‐1980) from the lower Eocene Fur Formation of Denmark was analysed using multiple imaging and molecular techniques, including field emission gun scanning electron microscopy (FEG‐SEM), X‐ray absorption spectroscopy and time‐of‐flight secondary ion mass spectrometry (ToF‐SIMS). Additionally, synchrotron radiation X‐ray tomographic microscopy (SRXTM) was employed in order to produce a digital reconstruction of the fossil. Under FEG‐SEM, the proximal, plumulaceous part of the feather revealed masses of ovoid microstructures, about 1.7 μm long and 0.5 μm wide. Microbodies in the distal, pennaceous portion were substantially smaller (averaging 0.9 × 0.2 μm), highly elongate, and more densely packed. Generally, the microbodies in both the plumulaceous and pennaceous segments were aligned along the barbs and located within shallow depressions on the exposed surfaces. Biomarkers consistent with animal eumelanins were co‐localized with the microstructures, to suggest that they represent remnant eumelanosomes (i.e. eumelanin‐housing cellular organelles). Additionally, ToF‐SIMS analysis revealed the presence of sulfur‐containing organics – potentially indicative of pheomelanins – associated with eumelanin‐like compounds. However, since there was no correlation between melanosome morphology and sulfur content, we conclude these molecular structures derive from diagenetically incorporated sulfur rather than pheomelanin. Melanosomes corresponding roughly in both size and morphology with those in the proximal part of FUM‐1980 are known from contour feathers of extant parrots (Psittaciformes), an avian clade that has previously been reported from the Fur Formation.

PalAss Go! URL: | Twitter: Share on Twitter | Facebook: Share on Facebook | Google+: Share on Google+