Blue-green eggshell coloration reflects yolk antioxidant content in spotless starlings Sturnus unicolor


  • Carlos Navarro,

  • Tomás Pérez-Contreras,

  • Jesús M. Avilés,

  • Kevin J. McGraw,

  • Juan J. Soler

C. Navarro (, T. Pérez-Contreras, J. M. Avilés and J. J. Soler, Depto de Ecología Funcional y Evolutiva, Estación Experimental de Zonas Áridas (CSIC), ES-04120 Almería, Spain. – K. J. McGraw, School of Life Sciences, Arizona State Univ., Tempe, AZ 85287-4501, USA.


The hypothesis that eggshell colouration is a sexually selected trait of female birds is based on the fact that biliverdin, the pigment responsible for blue-green colours of the eggshell, is a potent antioxidant and that only females with high antioxidant capacity can deposit higher concentrations of biliverdin as eggshell pigment. Antioxidants (e.g. carotenoids, vitamins) are also abundant in the egg yolk, which serve as nutrient reserves for the developing embryo, and eggshell colour intensity may reflect maternal investment in yolk antioxidants. Here, we test the relationship between blue-green eggshell colour intensity and concentration and amount of carotenoids, vitamin A, and vitamin E in the egg yolk of spotless starling Sturnus unicolor, a species for which we have previously shown good evidence of sexual selection driving egg coloration. As could be extrapolated from the hypothesis of sexual selection driving the evolution of blue-green eggshells, we found that eggshell colour intensity was positively related to the concentration and amount of carotenoids and vitamin E in the yolk. Thus, mothers may use egg colour intensity to signal to fathers the antioxidant status of their offspring. Moreover, we provide evidence suggesting that maternal yolk investment in more coloured eggs can also explain the detected association between feeding decisions of males and egg colour intensity that we have found previously in this species.