Lab Updates July 2015


Data Collection in Tring: 3D Scanning

We are nearing our target of scanning a species from every genus!

Phylogeny showing genus level coverage >87.61%:   Purple=Scanned, Yellow=Not Scanned

Phylogeny showing genus level coverage: 87.61%
Purple=Scanned, Yellow=Not Scanned

Our main focus this month has been to continue with scanning a species from every genus. We have now sampled over 87% of genera – up from 70% in June. One of the families we worked through this month was the long-tailed tits (Aegithalidae), which included the pygmy tit (Psaltria exilis). With a beak length of just under 5.5mm, it has the smallest beak we have scanned to date!

We also spent a couple of days scanning species of genera that are held in the restricted extinct and endangered collections, such as the California condor (Gymnogyps californianus), giant ibis (Thaumatibis gigantea) and the Philippine eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi).

Our large scanner, the R3X, spent a week tackling all the remaining species housed in the large skins collection (minus three cassowary and rhea species).

To date we have scanned:

  • 4197 (42.00%) of species
  • 1832 (87.61%) of genera
  • 2084 (34.93%) of passerines
  • 2110 (52.40%) of non-passerines

Mark My Bird

Thank you very much to everyone who tested out our new data crowdsourcing website and provided such valuable feedback. The final few tweaks are currently being made and (fingers crossed) the website will be going live at the start of September – exciting! Mark My Bird is  a web-based landmarking platform that will greatly speed up the process of post-processing our 3D scans. Keep an eye out on our website and twitter feed for updates on how to get involved!


Jen gave a talk at the Craniocervical Systems in Vertebrates conference in Ghent, Belgium (7th-10th July 2015) and bought back some lovely Belgian sweets for us all to enjoy.


Unrelated to birds entirely, Jen was the third author on a paper about fish (available here). The study was led by University of Bristol PhD student Lucy Brunt, and used an engineering method called Finite Element Analysis (usually used to test the strength of things like bridges and cars) to look at how muscle forces affect jaw development in zebrafish. It’s important for developing animals (humans included!) to use their muscles in order to develop proper joint shapes, and this study showed how cell and joint growth can go wrong if the muscles aren’t working properly.

The beautiful plumage of the himalayan monal (Lophophorus impejanus )

The beautiful plumage of the himalayan monal (Lophophorus impejanus)


Back in Sheffield, Jen has also been busy landmarking more bird beaks that will eventually be used to build an initial ‘bill morphospace’. In contrast, Chris C has been focusing on bird feathers rather than bills by taking spectrophotometric measurements of bird plumage colouration in an attempt to capture the extremes of avian plumage ‘colourspace’ – very cool! The Himalayan monal (Lophophorus impejanus) and the vulturine guineafowl (Acryllium vulturinum) are just two of the species that Chris has found which have rather unusual plumage colouration.

Twitter and #BeakoftheWeek

We are nearing 500 followers on twitter! We had four new winners in our weekly #BeakoftheWeek competition – well done to Alison, Beth, TD James and Keith. You can always check out the Beak of the Week leaderboard to see previous winners, beaks and blogs about each species. And remember – you’ve got to be in it to win it!


Himalayan monal (Lophophorus impejanus) by Francesco Veronesi is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0