Eggshell characteristics and yolk composition in the common cuckoo Cuculus canorus: are they adapted to brood parasitism?
Article first published online: 20 APR 2010
© 2010 The Authors
Journal of Avian Biology
Volume 41, Issue 2, pages 177–185, March 2010
How to Cite
Hargitai, R., Moskát, C., Bán, M., Gil, D., López-Rull, I. and Solymos, E. (2010), Eggshell characteristics and yolk composition in the common cuckoo Cuculus canorus: are they adapted to brood parasitism?. Journal of Avian Biology, 41: 177–185. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-048X.2009.04818.x
- Issue published online: 20 APR 2010
- Article first published online: 20 APR 2010
- Paper received 2 February 2009; manuscript accepted 21 June 2009
The developmental rate of cuckoo embryos and their hatching size is greater than that of host species, which may require more nutrient resources in the egg and more intensive gas exchange during development. In the present study, we compared various egg characteristics of a brood parasite, the common cuckoo Cuculus canorus, and its frequent host, the great reed warbler Acrocephalus arundinaceus. As maternally-derived testosterone is known to enhance growth rate of embryos and hatchlings, cuckoo eggs are expected to contain higher concentration of testosterone than host eggs. In addition, we expected higher concentration of antioxidants in cuckoo eggs to protect embryos from oxidative stress associated with accelerated growth. Our results showed that cuckoo eggs had thicker shells and higher pore density than great reed warbler eggs. Yolk was significantly heavier in cuckoo eggs and contained higher concentrations of carotenoids and vitamin E, however, yolk androgen and immunoglobulin concentrations were lower in cuckoo eggs as compared to great reed warbler eggs. We also examined whether eggshell colour was associated to egg quality, and detected a positive association between blue-green chroma and yolk antioxidant concentration in both species, suggesting that eggshell colour reflects the antioxidant investment of the female into the eggs. Our results suggest that cuckoo females increase the size, growth rate and competitive ability of their young by providing them with more nutrients and more dietary antioxidants for embryonic development, and not through elevated yolk testosterone or antibody levels. In addition, increased porosity of cuckoo eggshells may allow embryos to develop more rapidly because of a greater capacity of gas exchange.