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Egg Incubation Mechanics of Giant Birds

by 1,†, 1,2,†, 1,3, 2,4 and 1,*
Department of Mechanical Engineering, National Taiwan University, Taipei 10617, Taiwan
Department of Life Science, National Taiwan University, Taipei 10617, Taiwan
Department of Mechanical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA
Degree Program of Genome and Systems Biology, National Taiwan University, Taipei 10617, Taiwan
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
These authors contributed equally to this work.
Academic Editor: Alireza Dolatshahi-Pirouz
Biology 2021, 10(8), 738;
Received: 30 June 2021 / Revised: 28 July 2021 / Accepted: 29 July 2021 / Published: 1 August 2021
(This article belongs to the Section Biophysics)
Extinct giant birds have been a source of imagination, and knowledge of their incubation mechanics is crucial to our understanding of the evolution of avian reproduction. Despite the extensive studies on avian eggs, our understanding of the eggshell mechanics of giant birds, particularly the extinct ones, remains incomplete—most of these prior works were based on empirical or allometric relationships with limited quantitative analysis. In the present study, with the help of advanced three-dimensional computer simulation using data from published fossil records, we obtain more comprehensive quantitative analysis to answer important questions related to contact incubation of giant birds. Specifically, how much safety margin does the reversed sexual size dimorphism (RSSD) of moas provide? What is the theoretical upper limit of body mass for contact incubation? Is the Williams’ egg, or the putative Genyornis oological material (PGOM), really the egg of the extinct giant bird Genyornis newtoni, as commonly accepted since its discovery in 1981?
Finite element analysis (FEA) was used to conduct mechanical analyses on eggshells of giant birds, and relate this to the evolution and reproductive behavior of avian species. We aim to (1) investigate mechanical characteristics of eggshell structures of various ratite species, enabling comparisons between species with or without reversed sexual size dimorphism (RSSD); (2) quantify the safety margin provided by RSSD; (3) determine whether the Williams’ egg can have been incubated by an extinct giant bird Genyornis newtoni; (4) determine the theoretical maximum body mass for contact incubation. We use a dimensionless number C to quantify relative shell stiffness with respect to the egg size, allowing for comparison across wide body masses. We find that RSSD in moas significantly increases the safety margin of contact incubation by the lighter males. However, their safety margins are still smaller than those of the moa species without RSSD. Two different strategies were adopted by giant birds—one is RSSD and thinner shells, represented by some moa species; the other is no RSSD and regular shells, represented by the giant elephant bird. Finally, we predicted that the upper limit of body mass for contact incubation was 2000 kg. View Full-Text
Keywords: giant birds; contact incubation; mechanics; ratites; moa; reversed sexual size dimorphism; finite element analysis (FEA) giant birds; contact incubation; mechanics; ratites; moa; reversed sexual size dimorphism; finite element analysis (FEA)
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MDPI and ACS Style

Yen, A.; Wu, H.-J.; Chen, P.-Y.; Yu, H.-T.; Juang, J.-Y. Egg Incubation Mechanics of Giant Birds. Biology 2021, 10, 738.

AMA Style

Yen A, Wu H-J, Chen P-Y, Yu H-T, Juang J-Y. Egg Incubation Mechanics of Giant Birds. Biology. 2021; 10(8):738.

Chicago/Turabian Style

Yen, An, Hsiao-Jou Wu, Pin-Yi Chen, Hon-Tsen Yu, and Jia-Yang Juang. 2021. "Egg Incubation Mechanics of Giant Birds" Biology 10, no. 8: 738.

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