We report that a long-distance migrating shorebird, the red knot, makes a complete switch from commonly occurring monoester preen waxes to a much rarer class of higher-molecular-weight diester waxes at the time of take-off to the high arctic breeding grounds. The cold arctic climate would have required a lowering of wax-viscosity, and thus, a shift in the reverse direction. We propose that a sexually selected need for a brilliant plumage has lead to this conter-intuitive temporary shift from monoesters to diester waxes. The difficulty of application of the diester preen waxes under cold conditions would ensure the reliability of the quality-signalling function of this most probably sexually selected trait.
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