What happens to the eggs?
We have been busy in the lab processing over 50 clutches that have arrived at the Museum!
Once at the Museum, we use every part of the egg to determine differences in color and speckling, eggshell thickness, water loss through the eggshell, embryo development, persistent contaminants in the eggs, and the diet of the mother.
First, each clutch is assigned a catalog number, a unique number that separates the clutch from all other specimens in the Museum’s collections. Each individual egg in a clutch is then assigned a letter. Our intern, Imani, carefully removes the eggs from the plastic Easter egg packaging and inspects them for any cracks that may have occurred during packaging and shipping.
After unpacking, Aubrey meticulously photographs each clutch using a standard technique to be able to compare color and size of each egg to each other. Later the photographs are analyzed by our collaborator Dr. Daniel Hanley, to compare the variation in eggshell color and speckling between clutches across the United States.
Next we use a dremel to carefully cut around the base of the eggshell, being care not to cut through the membrane. The cut piece of eggshell is lifted off the egg and the contents of the egg are placed in a certified contaminant free jar. Once in the jar, we can determine the development stage of the embryo. These jars will later be sent off to be analyzed for persistent environmental contaminants such as PCBs, DDT, and heavy metals.
Currently, we are working on acquiring the tools and protocols to be able to measure the individual thickness of each eggshell, the water loss the happens across the eggshell, and the collecting eggshell membranes from each clutch to gain some clues into the diets of the mother. By gathering all of this data on each egg, we hope to find clues to understanding the natural variation in eggshells and the variation that may be caused by contaminants!